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How Birth Control Pills Affect Your Nutritional Needs

Prescription medications can affect your body's absorption and utilization of nutrients. If you use birth control pills or HRT, make sure you're getting enough of these nutrients.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
February 25, 2015
Episode #322

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Whenever I watch the evening news, I’m amazed by all the ads marketing prescription medications directly to consumers, suggesting that you ask your doctor whether you should be on the latest, greatest drug. Call me old-fashioned but I certainly hope that my doctor isn’t relying on me to suggest which new drugs I should be on - because I only watch the evening news once in a while.

They are required to list potential side effects in these ads, of course, leading to those bizarre and disturbing recitations, that they read quickly while we watch an attractive older couple go antiquing or bird-watching: “may cause snoring, wheezing, itchy belly-button, left-handedness, excessive use of puns, or death.” Uh, thanks for sharing.

A Little Known Side Effect of Birth Control Pills

Well, this week, I want to shine the light on a little-known side effect of a prescription medication used by more than 10 million women in the U.S.  Birth control pills can deplete your body of several B vitamins (riboflavin, B6, B12, and folic acid), vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. And because contraceptives are often taken over extended periods of time, even subtle effects could add up.

See also: Can Your Birth Control Pill Fail if You Take Antibiotics?

 

Now, I don’t want to overstate the dangers: As far as we know, oral contraceptives aren’t causing widespread nutrient deficiencies in this country. But research does show that women who take the pill have lower levels of these nutrients in their bodies. And if you’re aware of this potential effect, you can take steps to compensate.

Hormone replacement therapy (or HRT), by the way, uses the same hormones as birth control pills, but in different doses and proportions. So, if you’re taking HRT, this advice goes for you too.

A basic multi-vitamin should be enough to keep you out of trouble. But, as you know, I much prefer that you get your nutrition from food instead of supplements. So, here are 6 foods that are particularly rich in the nutrients that are depleted by hormones:

What to Eat if You Take the Birth Control Pill

  • Lentils are an excellent source of folic acid, not to mention fill-you-up protein and fiber.  Plus, unlike dried beans, they can be ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Or, grab a low-sodium ready-to-eat lentil soup for lunch.

  • Eggs and dairy products are going to be among your best sources of riboflavin. If you’re vegan, almonds are a good alternative.

  • Spinach earns it's "superfood" stripes as a good source of B6, folic acid, and magnesium - not to mention vitamins A and K. Eat it raw in salads, lightly sauteed as a side dish or omelet filling, or add a handful to your smoothie

One of my favorite lentil recipe these days is a warm lentil salad topped with baby spinach and a fried egg - so that's 3 of these foods in a single meal! (Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to try it.) 

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