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Feeling Lousy? It Could be Your Birth Control

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Written by Nina Flanagan

It turns out the Pill prevents a whole lot more than just pregnancy.

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If you’re one of the estimated 100 million women worldwide who currently take an oral contraceptive, make sure you take your vitamins. Not just vitamins, but also certain minerals and supplements.

This is the urgent message from Ross Pelton, an author, pharmacist, and clinical nutritionist with more than 30 years of research and scientific experience. “All oral contraceptives prevent the intestinal tract from absorbing nutrients and this leads to many different health conditions,” he says. His latest book, The Pill Problem, explores each condition, some of which are life-threatening, and lists the nutrients affected, suggesting which supplements to take to regain health. 

According to Pelton, no one is certain just how oral contraceptives block nutrient absorption, but plenty of studies prove it’s true. It wasn’t until 15 years after the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive, Enovid in 1960, that researchers began to study its effect on vitamin levels. Studies since have shown substantially lower levels of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, zinc, tyrosine and coenzyme Q10 (a critical antioxidant), compared to women who do not take oral contraceptives.

What effect do these reduced levels have? It’s quite a list. Fatigue, birth defects, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks/stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, insomnia, migraines, vaginal yeast infections, sexual dysfunction, and increased free radical damage. Many of these side effects can continue long-term even after discontinuing oral contraceptive use, such as sexual dysfunction.

Claudia Panzer, M.D., an endocrinologist who has conducted research on oral contraceptives found in her study that women taking the pill had levels of sex hormone binding globulin (which binds testosterone so it can’t function at the cellular level) four-times higher than women not on the pill. Even after they stopped taking the pill for six months, they still had levels twice as high as controls. That’s why a new pill, “Pill-PlusTM” is being developed by BioSante Pharmaceuticals, Inc. It combines DHEA with estrogen and progestin to achieve testosterone levels similar to those found in women not taking oral contraceptives.

Until this new drug is available on the market, Pelton recommends specific vitamins, supplements and minerals, with their daily dosages, to help prevent or minimize the long list of side effects. So take your B vitamins and your C's, and all the others listed above (you'll find recommended doses in his book). And as always, it makes sense to explore natural remedies, rather than just taking another prescription pill.