Did you know there’s a link between birth control and vitamin deficiency? Turns out, the Pill can affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can lead to changes in mood, energy levels, neurological functions. Experts break down everything you need to know.
Birth control pills are a convenient and easy way to prevent pregnancy and can also be used to help treat symptoms and manage certain medical conditions like PCOS, PMDD, and endometriosis. They also offer benefits to some like reducing acne, easing period pain, regulating menstrual cycles, and reducing PMS symptoms. And of course, they give people who menstruate more agency over their bodies. According to 2017-2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 14 percent of women aged 15 to 49 in the United States take oral contraceptives. Yet despite all the benefits of birth control, there are some downsides to be aware of. For example, intake of birth control pills over extended periods of time can potentially lead to vitamin absorption issues and nutritional deficiencies.
The good news is that armed with this new knowledge, you can make the most informed decisions about if you need to supplement to fill any nutrient deficiencies or if another method of birth control may be better for you. Keep reading to discover the connection between birth control and vitamin deficiency, why this happens, the main nutrients at risk of deficiency, and how to determine if you’re affected. Plus: the best ways to fill in nutrient gaps if you continue to stay on the Pill.
The Link Between Birth Control and Vitamin Deficiency, Explained
“When it comes to birth control and nutrient absorption, the reason some women develop nutritional deficiencies is not clear-cut,” says Julia Walker, RN, BSN, of Paloma Health. However, hormonal changes appear to be a key factor that affects how well your body absorbs nutrients.
“We know that hormones affect every cell in our bodies in some way. When they don’t follow a typical, expected pattern, it can throw off specific processes in our bodies,” she continues. With that said, Walker shares that “one plausible cause of nutrient deficiency from the Pill is that changes in either estrogen or progesterone levels can affect nutrient absorption in the gut, impacting gut flora or the mucosal lining.”
Of course, if you’re on the Pill and do have vitamin deficiencies, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re caused by your birth control method. Kelly Simms, ND, CNS, a naturopath and certified nutrition specialist based in Chicago, reminds us of the most common causes of nutrient deficiencies, which include:
- Inadequate dietary intake of vitamins and minerals
- Malabsorption in the gut
- Rapid excretion of nutrients
- Increased nutrient demand (based on your own unique metabolic needs and your medical history/medications)
Taking the Pill doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be nutrient-deficient, but the above factors may indicate a higher risk. Plus, both health experts mention that long-term use—typically over the course of one or several years—may also heighten the likelihood of malabsorption and deficiency.
Can Birth Control Affect Your Liver?
Hormonal birth control can also negatively impact liver function, thus potentially contributing to nutrient imbalances. As a review from the NIH’s LiverTox database explains, “Estrogens and oral contraceptives are both associated with several liver-related complications.” Since the liver is responsible for determining which nutrients should be processed, stored, expelled, or circulated throughout the bloodstream, liver dysfunction—whether caused by the Pill or otherwise—can compromise normal metabolic processes and thus may lead to malabsorption.
Which Vitamins and Minerals Are Most at Risk for Deficiency?
You may have heard about the link between vitamin C and birth control or magnesium and birth control, but are those claims true? According to experts, yes. “The main vitamins and minerals at risk of deficiency [while on the Pill] include folate, vitamins B2, B6, B12, C and E; and the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc,” Dr. Simms shares, which clinical research also supports.
These are some telltale signs of vitamin deficiency for each nutrient that may be impacted by oral contraceptives, notes Dr. Simms:
- Folate: anemia, fatigue, weakness
- Vitamin B2: anemia, fatigue, dry skin
- Vitamin B6: neuropathy, brain fog, depression
- Vitamin B12: fatigue, neuropathy, weakness
- Vitamin C: fatigue, irritability, easy bruising
- Vitamin E: muscle weakness, immune system deficiency, neurologic issues
- Magnesium: cramping, aches, fatigue
- Selenium: thyroid hormone deficiency, weakness, fatigue, skin and hair issues
- Zinc: immune system deficiency, skin and hair issues
How to Tell if You’re Vitamin Deficient
If you’re worried about birth control and vitamin deficiency, the first step is to listen to your body and see if something feels off.
In addition to watching out for the signs of the specific deficiencies listed above, Walker adds that being “more tired than usual, having a low threshold for activity, struggling with concentration, and moodiness” can all indicate nutritional depletion. She also warns that more severe cases of nutritional deficiency can lead to symptoms such as “lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, and heart palpitations.”
If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your doctor for a full evaluation of your nutrient levels. “Blood work is the best tool to look at nutritional status clinically,” Walker shares. She notes that even if your results are on the lower end of normal ranges, you may still experience undesired symptoms.
However, once you know which vitamins and minerals could use a boost, you’ll be able to get on the path to feeling your best.
How to Prevent Vitamin Deficiency While on Birth Control
While the Pill has the potential to affect nutrient absorption and may thus lead to deficiencies, women may choose to stick with this birth control method for any number of reasons—such as convenience and its ability to lessen the severity of PMS symptoms and cramping.
Your preferred method of birth control is a personal choice that only you should make (under the care of your doctor, of course). With that in mind, if you’re taking the Pill, know that there are options available to reduce your risk of developing (and even correct) nutrient deficiencies.
Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
To minimize the risk of developing vitamin and mineral deficiencies while on the Pill, Walker says that “the best thing you can do is eat a well-balanced diet that fulfills all of your daily nutrient requirements, [as] an unhealthy diet is one of the most significant risk factors for nutrient depletion while on the Pill.”
She particularly prizes fresh, whole foods, including lean animal proteins and plant-based protein sources, plus “vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, and some dairy if you can tolerate it.”
When grocery shopping, Walker also advises avoiding the inner aisles where processed foods and sources of refined sugar are typically stocked. Instead, aim to get the bulk of your haul from the outer perimeters of the market—or better yet, shop local at a nearby farmer’s market for fresh, in-season finds.
Prioritize Nutrient-Dense Foods
If you’ve discovered vitamin and mineral deficiencies in your blood work, it’ll serve you to prioritize food sources that contain higher amounts of those nutrients.
Dr. Simms shares the best food sources of the nutrients most at risk of deficiency while on the Pill:
- Folate: leafy greens, beans
- Vitamin B2: dairy, eggs
- Vitamin B6: fish, chicken, fruits, vegetables
- Vitamin B12: animal proteins (fish, poultry, red meat, dairy)
- Vitamin C: fruits, vegetables
- Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, oils from both sources
- Magnesium: nuts, seeds, greens
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, poultry
- Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts
While it’s always advised to get the majority of your nutrient intake through your diet, doing so isn’t always possible—yes, even for the healthiest eaters—which is why supplementation is recommended, especially if you take hormonal birth control.
“Supplements are the best way to protect yourself from deficiency while on the Pill, especially if the diet is inconsistent,” Dr. Simms shares. Unless you’re building balanced plates for each meal day in and day out, and you have no issues with nutrient absorption, your nutrition status is likely to improve by adding high-quality supplements to your regimen.
Dr. Simms says there can be additional benefits of supplementation if you’re on oral birth control, especially if you experience undesired side effects from the Pill like nausea, weight gain, and mood changes. “Some studies suggest that taking a multivitamin/multimineral alongside the birth control pill can also decrease the risk of these side effects, making the Pill more tolerable,” Dr. Simms explains. (Sounds like a win-win, if you ask us.)
HUM’s Base Control contains 22 essential micronutrients to supplement your diet, plus iron to support women pre-menopause.
You can think of multivitamins as an “insurance policy” of sorts, meaning they should complement—not fully replace—a balanced diet rich in micronutrients and macros alike.
With that said, it bears repeating that nutritional needs are highly individual and vary based on a range of factors. For this reason, Walker says that “it is best to consult your doctor to see what recommendations they have for you based on your health history” as well as other medications you’re currently taking.
If the Pill is in fact contributing to a nutrient deficiency, Dr. Simms shares that it shouldn’t take too long to get your levels back to normal if your doctor advises discontinuation or if you want to conceive in the near future. “Usually, deficiencies are restored within three months of Pill cessation when the Pill is no longer having an impact on absorption, excretion, or demand,” she explains.