Your Birth Control Isn’t Making You Vitamin Deficient


Photos courtesy of Cafemama and Selbe B.

These two things don’t HAVE to go together.

Welcome, dear readers, to yet another episode in my quest to counter 1Flesh’s inaccurate sexual and reproductive health information. As always, paragraphs in italics are from their site.

Hope you enjoy the ride!


With all the discussion that goes into the ridiculous side-effects of hormonal contraception — like doubled risk of HIV infection — there’s little discussion of the boring, ho-hum effect of vitamin deficiency.

Oh, dear lord. Where to start, where to start.

Okay, first, the ONE study y’all are citing involves Depo-Provera, and took place in Africa. Second, again, this was ONE study. Third, of the studies concerning Depo-Provera, five studies have suggested that it increases the risk of HIV infection among HIV-negative women, while SEVEN others did not. And of all the studies looking at birth control pills, only two have suggested that birth control pills increase the risk of HIV infection, while TEN others have not.

This conflicting evidence makes it difficult to come to conclusions about the relationship between hormonal contraceptive use and increased risk of HIV infection and/or transmission. In addition, none of the completed studies have been randomized controlled trials, which means determining causality is impossible, as women using hormonal contraceptives may be more likely to share other characteristics that put them at a higher risk of becoming infected with HIV or transmitting HIV, such as having more sexual partners or using fewer condoms. Also, most of the available studies did not confirm whether women who stated they were using hormonal contraceptives actually used them.

Further, in 2012, the World Health Organization convened a technical consultation regarding HIV acquisition, transmission, and progression as a result of recent research. The group, composed of 75 stakeholders, determined that, based on all available evidence (including the study 1Flesh cites), that the data was not sufficiently conclusive to warrant a change in medical eligibility criteria for hormonal contraception. What the group DID decide was that, given the new contradictory evidence, that the policy of encouraging condom use for individuals at risk of HIV acquisition or transmission should continue.

The use of hormonal contraception is associated with inadequate vitamin B6 levels in women.

Here’s a link to the full study, wherein you WILL find that oral contraceptive users have low plasma levels of PLP, but you will also see the authors’ state: “However, the low plasma PLP levels of OC users have been hypothesized to represent merely a redistribution of PLP between extracelluar and intracellular compartments or a shift of the total vitamin B-6 from PLP to the pyridoxal vitamer. The normal Hcy levels of OC users despite low plasma PLP tend to suggest protection from cardiovascular disease risk and seem to support the view that the low PLP levels of OC users are benign.” [emphasis added]

Sounds to me like the observed low levels of plasma levels of PCP in OC users aren’t really an accurate measurement of B6, as they don’t seem to be negatively impacting women.

Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause a lack of energy, decrease in brain function, inflammation of the skin, and increased risk of heart attack.

First, a vitamin B6 deficiency can cause a lack of energy, a decrease in brain function and inflammation of the skin, so it’s a good thing that we’ve shown that oral contraceptives don’t actually cause that.


::cough:: From the page you cite above: “The observational findings couldn’t determine causality.”


Photo courtesy of Science of Relationships.

Y’all need to start beating this into your heads. Correlations DOES NOT equal causality. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is consistent with the study “Risk of Myocardial Infarction in Relation to Current and Discontinued Use of Oral Contraceptives“, which found that current users of oral contraception have a 3.5 times increased risk of heart attack, while past users have a increased risk up to 2.5 times, increasing with the length of past use. 

A study from 1981? Hint: If you have to dig THAT FAR back into scientific history to find studies that back you up, your point is probably invalid.

Second, if you’re going to refer to a scientific study, y’all should REALLY learn what statistical terms mean. Also, get some fucking journalistic integrity and report the results accurately.

For instance, the study did NOT find that current users of oral contraception have a 3.5 times increased risk of heart attack. The study found that that users of oral contraceptives had a 2.5 times increased risk of heart attack (again, learn how to read statistics, y’all). Further, the study didn’t show that past users had an increased risk of up to 2.5 times. The study showed an increased risk of 1.5 times for users who had used oral contraceptives for 10 or more years, a .6 times increased risk for OC users of 5 to 9 years, and ZERO increased risk for users who used OC for less than five years.

Photo courtesy of XKCD.

Third, when we look at a more recent study from 2003, we find a marked difference in the risk of myocardial infarction related to oral contraceptive use based on the OC generation. For instance, users taking second-generation oral contraceptives had a 1.5 increased risk of myocardial infarction, while users taking third-generation of oral contraceptives had only a .3 increased risk of heart attack. Given this data, it is reasonable to assume that the newer, fourth-generation formulations on the market today would result in even lower risk of myocardial infarction.

Vitamin B6 deficiency has also been associated with depression.

Indeed it is. Again, good thing we’ve shown that the observed low rates of B6 in women taking oral contraceptives aren’t actually accurate.

Similarly, oral contraception is associated with a decrease in vitamin B12 and folate. The study “Effects of Oral Contraceptive Usage on B12 and Folate Levels“ shows that while a decrease in these vitamins can cause lame stuff like megaloblastic anemia, the real concern is for pregnant women:

With a normal diet, folate levels return to normal about three months after discontinuing OCs. Should a pregnancy ensue within six months of discontinuing OCs, there is a greater incidence of folate deficiency during the pregnancy than in those who had not taken OCs before becoming pregnant.

A 1985 study. Really? You’re citing to another study from nearly 30 years ago? Okay….

How ‘bout I share a more recent study? This study from 2011 (you know, less than two years ago) states that, “The presently available data do not support a conclusion that currently used OCs negatively impact folate status” and “Functional indicators of vitamin B12 status are not significantly impacted by OC use.” Why does this study contradict the study 1Flesh cites, you might ask? Well, largely because they’re citing a 30 year old study. As the authors of this study state, though a number of EARLY studies concluded that oral contraceptives negatively impacted folate and B12 status, the majority of those studies were conducted when the level of estrogen in oral contraceptives was much higher (sound familiar to what I’ve been saying in a lot of my posts here?). Further, the authors caution that interpreting the findings from many of the early studies is problematic because there were no controls included for potentially confounding factors (read: those early studies were bad science).

Folate and vitamin b12 deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of spina bifida in the unborn, along with a number of other neural tube defects, which include  anencephalyencephaloceleshydranencephalyiniencephalyschizencephaly, and all sorts of scary sounding stuff.

Wow, yeah. That stuff all IS really scary. Good thing hormonal contraceptives have no impact on folate or vitamin b12 levels, yeah?

Thus many have advocated for supplying women on hormonal contraception with Vitamin B supplements, and women trying to conceive after using hormonal contraception with folic acid supplements.

Even the site you link to says women on hormonal contraceptives only need to supplement Vitamin B6. And since the most recent studies are showing that B6 levels actually AREN’T causing problems for women. Even IF oral contraceptives were causing a reduction in B6 levels, it seems a relatively simple thing to take a B6 supplement. You can generally find them for about $.03 a day.

I agree wholeheartedly, and add to it the call for a greater awareness and promotion of fertility awareness, which keeps women vitamin healthy.

And, again, a link back to Creighton. See my last paragraphs on this post for the truth about the Creighton Method.

Till next time,

– H

© Heather Parker and Antigone Awakens, 2012-2013.

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