Part 7 in my series of posts about products which can contribute to nutrient deficiencies –
Birth Control Pills
The use of birth control pills has been linked to several diseases including heart disease, although this link is controversial. The female hormone progestin is associated with an elevated risk of heart disease, and birth control pills with either low doses or an alternate form of this hormone might help increase hearts disease risk. Suspicion that birth control pills increased the risk of developing breast cancer has not been substantiated, but a potential link to cervical cancer is still being investigated.
Long-term use of birth control pills can affect the absorption and use of several nutrients. The pills are associated with weight gain, increased appetite, reduced absorption of folic acid and other vitamins, and altered distribution of several nutrients within the body’s tissues.
High blood levels of some nutrients, such as vitamin A, copper, and iron, are noted in some women, while low blood levels of vitamins E, C, B1, B2, B6, folic acid, and zinc are noted in others on birth control pills. These fluctuations in nutrient levels are only partially attributed to the medication, with other factors such as dietary habits also influencing the nutritional status. Although increased dietary intake of foods rich in these nutrients or a moderate-dose vitamin and mineral supplement are practical approaches to the prevention of drug-induced deficiencies, there is no evidence that large supplemental doses of those nutrients improve the nutritional status of women taking birth control pills.
Numerous studies report that these pills lower blood and tissue levels and increase the dietary requirements for vitamin B6. This nutrient is particularly interesting since even moderate deficiencies of vitamin B6 produce many of the mood disorders associated with the use of birth control pills, such as depression, irritability, and insomnia.
Vitamin B6 is an essential component in the production of the brain chemical serotonin that regulates pain, mood, some eating behaviors, and sleep. Low vitamin B6 levels reduce serotonin levels, which could produce mild depression and other symptoms mentioned above. Birth control pills affect the status of vitamin B6 only in those who are already consuming a marginal amount of this vitamin. Improvements in mood and sleep are reported when vitamin B6 intake in increased. Often all that is needed to ensure optimal nutrient intake and reduced mood or sleep problems is improved dietary habits and increased dietary intake of vitamin B6-enriched foods.