Oral contraceptives deplete nutrients. Hormones are very much involved in pregnancy, from conception to labor. Birth control pills can prevent pregnancy by adjusting certain hormone levels. This is a major class of prescription drugs used by a large population of women. A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) points out that nutrient depletion from birth control pills is of “high clinical relevance” and “should receive great attention.” When I started researching this post, I had no idea how significant the nutrient depletions could be. This really only touches the surface. A great resource for quality information is the book What You Must Know About Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & More by Pamela Wartian Smith, M.D. She is one of the course directors in my Medical Masters Program and constantly amazes me at her vast knowledge. She has the ability to synthesize material and make it usable. It’s a book worth having on your shelf in order to LIVE YOUNGER. Her book was a primary source for this post.
Examples of oral contraceptives include:
- Ortho Cyclen
- Ortho Novum
- Ortho Tri Cyclen
- Ethinyl Estradiol Plus Norgestrel
The use of contraceptive pills have been shown to decrease levels of these six nutrients:
- Riboflavin: Also known as Vitamin B2, it is involved with the body’s energy production and is vital for healthy eyes, the production of antibodies, and tissue repair. Vitamin B2 is needed to convert Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin A, and Niacin into their active forms. Foods that contain Riboflavin include brewer’s yeast, lamb/calf/chicken liver, almonds, wheat germ, wild rice, mushrooms, egg yolks, and kale. Processing food decreases it’s riboflavin content by up to 80 percent. Symptoms of B2 deficiency are depression, dry/cracking skin, and light sensitivity.
- Pyridoxine: Vitamin B6 detoxifies chemicals and strengthens tissues. It is used for the absorption of fats and proteins and the production of hydrochloric acid for food digestion. It acts as a partner for more than 100 different enzymes. Symptoms of deficiency are depression, fatigue, irritability, mouth ulcers, nervousness, insomnia, and skin lesions around the mouth. Foods that naturally contain Vitamin B6 include brewer’s yeast, sunflower seeds, toasted wheat germ, walnuts, fresh salmon, buckwheat flour, hazelnuts, bananas, and avocados.
- Folic Acid: Less routinely called Vitamin B9, Folic Acid is especially important for energy production and the immune system. The natural form found is food is actually called folate. Part of the B9 that you need can be made in a healthy intestine and the rest is gained through food. It is essential to detoxify hormones, for DNA synthesis, for metabolic conversion of dopamine (which affects mood), and for the health of all tissues in the body. Deficiency symptoms include decreased resistance to infection, mental illness, toxemia, impaired wound healing, diarrhea, depression, and sore/inflamed tongue with a smooth and shiny appearance. Foods like brewer’s yeast, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, beef/lamb liver, asparagus, lentils, walnuts, fresh spinach, peanut butter, and broccoli are good sources of folate.
- Vitamin B12: Wow! I could write a month on this! Also called cobalamin or cyanocobalamin, Vitamin B12 performs many important functions and is found in most animal foods. Vegetarians or Vegans must take B12 supplements or eat fortified cereals. It is released from food by hydrochloric acid so that the body can absorb it. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the function of Folic Acid, it is needed for healthy red blood cells, nervous system function, and the production of chemical messengers involved in brain-body communication. Confusion, constipation, memory loss, stiffness, fatigue, increased cortisol levels, and ringing in the ears are just a few of the symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency. You can supply your body with this essential nutrient by eating liver, eggs, oysters, trout, fresh salmon or tuna, swiss cheese, or cottage cheese, to name a few of the sources.
- Ascorbic Acid: More commonly called Vitamin C, this water soluble nutrient must be consumed in food or supplements because our bodies cannot make it. It is essential for the body to function properly – especially the immune system. It also aids in collagen synthesis, decreases the rate of gum disease, decreases the risk of heart disease, and lowers blood pressure, just to name of few of it’s many benefits. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is involved in the production of serotonin. Red chili peppers, red sweet peppers, parsley, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, spinach, yellow summer squash and green onions are a few of the Vitamin C-rich foods. When the body is deficient, fatigue, joint pain, frequent infections, and easy bruising can result.
- Zinc: A “micro-mineral” needed only in small quantities, Zinc is extremely important for overall mental and physical health and is used in many enzymatic reactions. It boosts immunity, helps Vitamin D and Vitamin A work more efficiently, helps balance blood sugar, and is needed for the formation of bone and skin. This is just the short list! Zinc deficiency contributes to acne, decreased sense of smell, frontal headaches, craving for sugary foods, and brittle nails, to name a few. Ginger root, pecans, oats, walnuts, potatoes, and garlic are sources of Zinc.
Our bodies must be in balance. Remember, as my dear dad says, “too much of a good thing is not a good thing.” Although the nutrients below are essential to good health, excess amounts are dangerous. Oral contraceptives increase the levels of these three:
- Iron: In normal amounts, iron is the essential component of the oxygen-containing part of red blood cells. Iron toxicity contributes to hair loss, gut disturbances, diabetes, decreased absorption and utilization of Vitamin E, and a predisposition to heart disease. Something important to note is that excess iron can increase free radical production, which damages cells and increase the risk of cancer, cause inflammation or worsen arthritis.
- Copper: In excess, copper can contribute to headaches, abdominal pain diarrhea, kidney and liver damage. Extreme toxicity can damage the brain.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin so it can be stored in the tissues. Symptoms of too much Vitamin A include hair loss, fatigue, dry skin, irritability, appetite loss, and bone pain. Liver damage and even death can result from excess Vitamin A.
If you are on oral contraceptives and are concerned about nutrient depletion, talk to your doctor. He or she can advise you appropriately. I believe it is important to “Test, Don’t Guess” and there are quality companies who can do that for you. The best way to fuel your body is through quality whole food, organically grown if possible. Fresh food has a myriad of micronutrients that can’t be measured and work together in ways that we don’t yet understand.
Oral contraceptives deplete nutrients. LIVE YOUNGER by knowing what is going in your body. START SOMEWHERE to deal effectively with nutrient depletions. You can do it. I will help you.
Smith, M.D., Pamela Wartian. (2008). What You Must Know About Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & More. Garden City Park, New York: Square One Publishers.