Birth control pills or oral contraceptives (including those used to treat acne) frequently lead to deficiencies of the following nutrients: folic acid, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, vitamin C, and minerals including magnesium, selenium, zinc and the amino acid tyrosine. Dr Arien van der Merwe looks at the effect of low levels of these nutrients and offers some advice.
Tyrosine is an essential precursor of the thyroid hormones. If there is an existing tendency to under-functioning of the thyroid gland (such as a family tendency or genetic weakness), hypo-thyroidism might be precipitated by the long-term use of contraceptive pills. Research on this was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as long ago as 1975! Tyrosine is also a precursor of the neurotransmitters and stress hormones dopamine and noradrenalin. Tyrosine depletion and hypothyroidism can also play a role in depression. When high stress levels and a susceptibility or genetic tendency are added to the depletion, chances of disease increase tremendously.
Folic acid depletion is associated with anaemia, birth defects in babies when women do decide to fall pregnant, cervical dysplasia (cancerous changes in cells of the cervix, a part of the womb), high homocysteine levels (associated with an increased risk of heart disease), depression and an increased incidence of breast and colorectal cancers.
Vitamin B6 depletion is associated with reduced serotonin and melatonin synthesis (important in depression), elevated homocysteine levels, anxiety, low libido, and impaired glucose tolerance (which could lead to diabetes mellitus or high blood sugar levels).
Vitamin B12 depletion can lead to anaemia.
Low levels of vitamin C can lead to frequent infections (colds, flu, chronic fatigue, candida and ‘leaky gut’ syndrome), poor vascular integrity, accelerated ageing of the skin, a blood clotting tendency and high LDL-cholesterol and blood fat levels.
Birth control pills can also alter the metabolism of tryptophan, the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin. In susceptible individuals this could play a major role in the development of depression. Symptoms of depression might only manifest once a woman is in her late 50s during the menopausal years. The depression might then be attributable to vitamin B-complex and tryptophan depletion due to years of using birth control pills!
PREVENT THE NUTRIENT DEPLETION ASSOCIATED WITH BIRTH CONTROL PILLS
Use a food supplement with at least 50 mg each of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, choline and inositol, with 50 mcg of B12 and biotin and 400 mcg of folic acid. Tyrosine and 5-hydroxitryptophan can be taken as a separate amino acid combination.
Also eat well, regularly and healthily to maintain constant blood sugar levels, exercise regularly and moderately, and practise stress management techniques to support your endocrine, immune and nervous systems. Refer to the nutritional and supplement advice given for PMS.
A general herbal combination for menopausal symptoms, premenstrual tension, female infertility and a tendency to miscarry, as well as when trying to fall pregnant, would include dong quai (Angelica sinensis), black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and chastetree berry (Vitex agnus castus). Use the recommended dosages as provided in the instructions of reputable herbal supplements, or visit a health practitioner knowledgeable about herbal remedies, to assist you.