Updated: Apr 30
Written by Erin Kloster, Dietetic Intern
Reviewed by Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN, CSSD, METS I
You may be aware of various side effects associated with taking “the pill”, but have you ever considered how your birth control might be affecting how you absorb nutrients? Research suggests birth control, specifically oral contraceptives, can cause nutrient deficiencies.
What are oral contraceptives?
Oral contraceptives, otherwise known as “the pill”, is a widely used form of birth control containing hormones that prevent ovulation, thus preventing pregnancy. Beyond serving as a popular form of birth control, the pill is also used for non-contraceptive purposes, such as treating and managing endometriosis, PCOS, acne, period pains, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
The pill offers all sorts of amazing benefits, but there are drawbacks associated with taking the pill. An increased risk of developing nutrient deficiencies being one of them.
How do oral contraceptives theoretically cause nutrient deficiencies?
The mechanism behind how oral contraceptives deplete certain nutrients is still somewhat unclear. However, it is thought that hormones in the pill (typically estrogen and progesterone) are associated with metabolic changes in the body that can impact absorption of nutrients.
It’s also important to note that if you are taking the pill, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll develop nutrient deficiencies. This is especially true for those who already eat a balanced diet rich in whole foods.
What nutrients are impacted?
So, exactly what nutrients can oral contraceptives deplete in the body? The main ones include:
Vitamins B2, B6, B12
Now you might be wondering, how do you know if you’re deficient in these nutrients? A blood test is the best way to identify nutrient deficiencies. However, here are a few specific signs and symptoms associated with deficiencies of these vitamins and minerals to watch for:
Vitamin B2: fatigue, blurred vision, dry skin, anemia
Vitamin B6: brain fog, depression, skin rashes
Vitamin B12: shortness of breath, fatigue, pale skin
Vitamin C: fatigue, irritability, weakened immune system
Vitamin E: muscle weakness, changes in vision, neurological issues
Folate: fatigue, weakness, neurological issues, decreased appetite
Zinc: hair loss, skin issues, weakened immune system
Magnesium: cramping, aches, loss of appetite, heart palpitations
Iron: fatigue, pale skin, chest pain, weakness
Selenium: weakness, fatigue, brain fog, skin and hair issues
Preventing nutrient deficiencies while taking the pill:
The big question is, how can you prevent nutrient deficiencies while taking the pill? Eating a balanced diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, and lean proteins is the best way to minimize your risk of developing nutrient deficiencies while taking the pill.
Specifically focusing on obtaining foods high in B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, zinc, magnesium, iron, and selenium will further decrease your risk of developing nutrient deficiencies on the pill.
Food sources of common nutrients depleted by the pill:
If you’re on the pill and are concerned you might have a nutrient deficiency, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider and/or a dietitian to best assess how to support your health.
DDN is here to support you, your health, and provide you with the resources you need to feel your best while taking the pill!