If you are currently on birth control pills (the pill), you should consider taking a B-complex supplement. While it is best to get your B vitamins from a healthy and balanced diet, the reality is sometimes you may fall short. This is often the case for superwomen trying to balance a career and personal life in stressful times. You may also need to supplement other vitamins and minerals while on the pill, but I will cover these in future blogs. For today, the focus is on B vitamins-specifically B-6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, and riboflavin (B-2).
Most birth control pills are a combination of an estrogen and a progestin. The estrogens in the pill can affect the metabolism of B-6. A Tufts University study, published in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that contraceptive-using women of child-bearing age had lower plasma levels of B-6. There are a few ways that the estrogens in the pill can deplete folic acid. These include decreasing absorption, increasing metabolism, and increasing excretion (removal from the body). The pill can also decrease the body’s absorption of riboflavin or its conversion to the active forms used by the body.
The B vitamins are a group of vitamins and vitamin-like compounds that naturally occur together and work together. This is why you see them packaged together in B-complex supplements. If there is a deficiency in one of the B vitamins, then there is often a deficiency in the others. This is why it is best to supplement with a B-complex that contains the whole group of them for best coverage of a potential depletion and to keep the body’s balance of them in check. The B vitamins are involved in maintaining healthy nerves, eyes, hair and skin, sex glands, sebaceous glands and bone marrow. They are involved with appetite and digestion, hormone production, and prevent anemia.
Low B-6 levels may cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and irritability. Interestingly, these are also known side effects of the pill. Symptoms of folic acid deficiency include fatigues, weakness, headache, difficulty concentrating, palpitations, and diarrhea. A bigger concern with low folic acid is the risk of neural tube birth defects in the developing fetus when a woman gets off the pill and is trying to conceive. Some symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include sore throat, cracking around the lips, mouth sores, eye irritation, and skin dermatitis.
Keep in mind that part of the reason that research results are conflicting regarding B vitamin depletion from the pill is because there is a lot of variability from blood analyses. Some feel that this may not be the most accurate or sensitive measure of your nutritional status. It is also assumed that women taking the “pill” eat a healthy and balanced diet. But this may not always be true. As a reminder, here are some good sources of B vitamins:
B-6: Fish, poultry, meat, whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brewer's yeast.
Folic acid: Liver, dark green leafy and stem vegetables, dried beans.
Riboflavin: Milk, meat, poultry, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, organ meats, enriched grains and cereals.
After reviewing various studies and expert opinions, this is my conclusion on the need for a B-complex supplement while on the pill. I think a B-complex supplement is wise for women on the pill who eat a not-so healthy diet and take a high-dose pill (a product with more than 50 mcg of an estrogen). It is also good insurance for most other women on the pill, especially those who plan to conceive once off the pill. Please feel free to consult with a Village Green practitioner on which B-complex supplement is best for your needs. And stay tuned for Parts Two and Three on this topic…