The Oral Contraceptive Pill – A blessing or a curse?
Numerous women around the world rely on the Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP), whether it be for hormonal regulation or contraception. But what many women don’t know, or aren’t advised of, are the detrimental effects it can have on their health. This is especially evident for women who are thinking of coming off the pill prior to trying for a baby – it’s extremely important that you understand what vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be caused by the OCP, as these stores will need to be replenished before conceiving.
Ill-health effects of the oral contraceptive pill:
- Increased risk of venous thromboembolism (blood clot in vein), which is the leading cardiovascular diagnosis after strokes and heart attacks. This increased risk is caused by the OCP increasing fibrinolysis and vitamin K dependent coagulation.
- Combined contraceptive pills have been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, with rates of around 2-20 per million women (Stewart & Black, 2015). This risk increases significantly if the woman is obese or a smoker. Furthermore, women who have or have a history of increased blood pressure or uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes or vascular complications should not use any form of hormonal therapy, whether it’s the OCP or hormone replacement therapy.
- Oral contraceptive pill use is also associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Key nutritional deficiencies associated with oral contraceptive use include:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B2
- Folic Acid
Why are these nutrients important if we want to conceive?
Zinc: Zinc is an essential metal that is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes in the human body, as well as the proteins that defend us against oxidative stress. It’s also essential for the proper development of the brain and sexual organs, maintains immune function, has a structural role in the development of respiration and helps the body absorb the B group vitamins (just to name a few).
Selenium: Involved in the maintenance of cellular membranes, protects against chromosomal damage, reduces sepsis in neonates, synergises with sex hormones, stimulates DNA repair, and is essential for healthy thyroid hormones. A selenium deficiency can result in damage of the foetus’ immune and nervous system, and is associated with low birth weight.
Magnesium: Required for DNA stabilization and promotes DNA transcription and replication, and is a cofactor to many enzymes in the body including the production of energy and is essential for bone structure.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that is essential for immune modulation, to maintain the integrity of lipid membranes, regulate the synthesis of sex hormones and stabilize normal growth maintenance. Deficiencies have also been associated with preterm births.
Vitamin C: Required for the formation of blood cells, the growth of bones and teeth, collagen synthesis, essential for the integrity of connective tissue and the maintenance of cell membranes.
Vitamin B12: Essential for the normal growth and development of the peripheral and central nervous system, bone marrow, skin, bones, mucous membranes and blood vessels. It’s also required for the biosynthesis of DNA and protein and blood cells.
Vitamin B6: B6 is essential for the development of the nervous system and neurotransmitter synthesis. Therefore, this vitamin is an essential nutrient during pregnancy.
Vitamin B2: Required for the growth and development of the foetus, the maintenance of epithelial and eye tissues, as well as the maintenance of mucosa and myelin sheath.
Folate: Required for the differentiation of embryonic tissue including nervous tissue, required for healthy formation of the neural tube, DNA growth and reduces the expression of chromosomal mutations. Folate is also required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, choline and noradrenaline.
Pre-conception care should begin for women at a minimum of three months prior, and for men four months prior; as it takes three months for eggs to reach maturity, and sperm four months to reach maturity.
If you’ve been considering coming off the pill for various reasons or are starting your family planning journey, I would love to help support your body during this process and ensure these essential nutrients are optimised for healthy conception. Please feel free to call us on 0407 736 463 for assistance or book your session with myself online here.
For further information regarding essential nutrients for preconception care, please read the following articles:
Vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy, Health Direct.
Pregnancy and Nutrition, Better Health Channel.
There’s also an article coming out shortly about folate supplements so keep an eye out in your inbox for it!
American Heart Association (2017). What is Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/What-is-Venous-Thromboembolism-VTE_UCM_479052_Article.jsp accessed 1/9/18
Cancer Council Australia (2015). http://www.cancer.org.au/policy-and-advocacy/position-statements/oral-contraceptives.html accessed 1/9/18
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation (1990). Vitamins A, E, and K. Nutrition During Pregnancy: Part I Weight Gain: Part II Nutrient Supplements. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 17.
Osiecki, H (2010). The Nutrient Bible. 9th Edition. QLD, Australia: Bio Concepts Publishing
Shufelt, C. L., & Noel Bairey Merz, C. (2009). Contraceptive Hormone Use and Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 53(3), 221–231.
Palmery, M, Saraceno, A, Vaiarelli, A & Carlomagno, G (2013). Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. (13):1804-13.
Pieczynska, J & Grajeta, H (2015). The role of selenium in human conception and pregnancy. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology (29):31-8.
Stewart, M & Black, K (2015). Choosing a combined oral contraceptive pill. Australian Prescriber (38).
Weisberg, E (2002). Contraception, hormone replacement therapy and thrombosis. Australian Prescriber (25):57-91.
Wilson, S, Bivins, B, Russell, K & Bailey, L (2011). Oral contraceptive use: impact on folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 status. Nutrient Revolution (10):572-83.