Constantly Sluggish? Why Hormonal Birth Control is to Blame

Like just about everyone, you’re on birth control. And also just like about everyone you’re battling low energy, making it difficult to be energized, motivated, productive, and well, happy. But hey, who isn’t tired these days, right? After all, it seems that most adults are addicted to caffeine, and energy products have become a multi-million dollar industry with millions on a quest for that jolt of energy that makes their desire to lay on the couch subside. And yet, the answer isn’t in the form of a caffeine bandaid, but in the fact that hormonal birth control depletes vitamin D — a major element in energy and a necessity to good health.

And yet, it’s unlikely that your GYNO shared the extensive list of hormonal birth control side effects when prescribing you the drug.

In fact, while hormonal birth control has become so widespread, and easily obtained, the numerous side effects of taking it, are rarely discussed by those prescribing it — something I had not realized until chatting with two friends from Europe. In a conversation about hormonal birth control between myself an American, and a German, and a Danish friend, I discovered that we all had the same experience: get prescribed hormonal birth control in our teens with little to no mention of the reality of what it does to our bodies beyond preventing pregnancy when taken correctly.

Until learning that my experience wasn’t in isolation (as I had assumed I had a GYNO who was rushed for time or perhaps not all that diligent), that I finally understood that not only was I not alone in my experience, but that this doesn’t just happen in the US where I’m from but around the globe.

Many of the all-too-common side effects are typically overlooked, and because many occur gradually, most never connect their slow-to-show symptoms with their hormonal birth control, such as vitamin D deficiency which can cause a feeling of chronic fatigue and laziness, weight gain, and even mood changes such as depression.

The fact that hormonal birth control causes nutritional deficiency does not get as much attention as it should, and in return, it slowly wreaks havoc on the body. By robbing your body of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamin D, you may be left with a laundry list of random (and incredibly common) symptoms, from brain fog and fatigue to low libido, muscle weakness, and even depression.

The Vital Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced in our body after direct sunlight exposure. The most well-understood role of vitamin D is the regulation and retention of calcium and phosphorus in the body, both of which are essential components of bone structure, and regulation of our immune system. Vitamin D stimulates the gut to absorb and retain the calcium before it is excreted out by the kidneys and plays a vital role in bone health.

Research has shown that many other organs have vitamin D receptors indicating that their role is also affected by this vitamin, which also functions as a hormone.

Here are some other important roles that vitamin D plays in our body:

  • Healthy bones and teeth development
  • Promotes muscle health
  • Regulates immune system and protects against diseases
  • Supports cardiovascular system and maintain normal blood pressure
  • Controls inflammation
  • Aids cell growth
  • Help fight depression
  • Helps lose extra pounds
  • Protects against diabetes
  • Protects against cancer

For a more detailed look at the role, vitamin D plays in the human body and all of its potential side effects of low vitamin D levels, visit the Cleveland Clinic.

How Hormonal Birth Control Depletes Vitamin D Levels

Hormone-based contraceptives, whether in the form of combo pills, the patch, the intrauterine ring, or an IUD (i.e., Mirena or Kyleena) all use synthetic hormones that hinder ovulation and alter the internal womb environment in a way that makes it less viable for conception. But preventing conception is not the only effect these synthetic hormones have on the body. They also alter nutrient absorption by the gut by affecting its permeability and also impacts metabolism by affecting the liver.

Here’s how hormonal birth control depletes vitamin D and mineral levels:

  • Synthetic hormones alter the gut’s ability to absorb nurtrients
  • Synthetic hormones affect the liver, impacting the process of metabolism

Although both factors can result in nutrient depletion, the main factor that is responsible for mineral and vitamin deficiency is altered liver function. A change in normal metabolization can result in excess nutrient and mineral excretion from the body causing their deficiency.

Many pieces of research also suggest that high, estrogen-only contraceptives can cause a rise in vitamin D levels in the body, causing a whole other myriad of health issues. However, what’s odd in this case is that these levels drop drastically upon pregnancy, resulting in abnormally low levels of vitamin D.

Signs Your Vitamin D Levels are Low or Deficient

Even though getting vitamin D is as easy as taking a walk in the sun, there is still a huge number of people who are vitamin D deficient. According to one study, an estimated 1 billion people all over the world have lower than normal vitamin D levels in their blood. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can range from mild to severe depending upon the scarcity of this nutrient in your body.

Here are the most common signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency:

  • Fatigue; feeling lazy all the time
  • Depression or low mood
  • Hair loss
  • Skin issues, such as acne and signs of aging
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Getting recurrent infections
  • Decreased bone mass
  • Muscle and bone pain

Symptoms of low vitamin D can be subtle and difficult to notice at the start, but they can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Chronic vitamin D deficiency has also been reported to be linked with the risks of type II diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Why You Should Take a Vitamin D Test

You should never rely solely on the symptoms to diagnose vitamin D deficiency as most of these symptoms are nonspecific and can be caused by many other common conditions. And taking unnecessary vitamin D supplements can cause you more harm than good. Just like vitamin D deficiency, excess of this vitamin can also cause negative effects on your health.

For example, an abnormally high quantity of vitamin D in the blood can result in excessive calcium in the body which can cause nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, indigestion, stomachache, frequent urination, and even kidney failure. To prevent vitamin D toxicity, you should always get your vitamin D levels tested before starting any supplements.

Here are a few of the best at-home vitamin D test kits:

  • empowerDX: Best vitamin D test kit for getting result ASAP, with one-day shipping on Amazon and guaranteed results within 2 to 3 days (finger prick, $59).
  • Cerascreen: Most affordable at-home vitamin D test (finger prick, $49).
  • Everlywell: The best vitamin D test for those who experience signs of inflammation (i.e., weakeness, joint pain, muscle pain, and fatigue) as its tests for both vitamin D and hs-CRP levels. (finger prick, $99).

With the availability of at-home testing kits, it’s easier than ever to check your vitamin D levels in the blood. All you need to do is take a sample and send it to the lab. Be careful to read all the instructions and send the sample on the same day to prevent blood clotting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is considered a normal level of vitamin D?

Vitamin D levels vary from person to person, however, there are general parameters around what is considered low, normal, and high levels of vitamin D. The target for normal levels is 20 ng/mL, low is 12 ng/mL, and high is over 50 ng/mL. Granted, vitamin D levels vary by age and gender, so to determine the right levels of vitamin D for your body, be sure to check your suggested levels for your age group, gender, and pregnancy status.

Normal Vitamin D Levels

Normal20 ng/mL
Low12 ng/mL
High>50 ng/mL

Vitamin D Levels by Age

0-12 months*10 mcg
(400 IU)
10 mcg
(400 IU)
1–13 years15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
14–18 years15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
19–50 years15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
51–70 years15 mcg
(600 IU)
15 mcg
(600 IU)
>70 years20 mcg
(800 IU)
20 mcg
(800 IU)

*Adequate Intake (AI) (Source: National Institute of Health)

Can vitamin D be taken with birth control?

Vitamin D can be taken while using hormonal birth control as it does not alter their efficacy. In fact, because such a high percentage of the population is vitamin D deficient, nearly every multivitamin manufacturer includes vitamin D within the supplement, so you may already be getting additional D. However, before taking a high amount of vitamin D, t is advisable to confirm you are vitamin D deficient before starting the supplements, which can easily be accomplished at home with a vitamin D test kit, such as the empowerDX kit for $59 on Amazon which guarantees results within 2 to 3 days.

What are the natural sources of vitamin D?

Vitamin D comes in a variety of sources, from the sun to the foods and supplements we consume. Obtaining vitamin D through the sun is arguably the best method, as according to a study from Yale Medical, when your skin is exposed to the sun, your body actually manufactures its own vitamin D. In other words, vitamin D from the sun is your body’s natural form. However, you are likely getting vitamin D from your diet as well as it’s in fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, liver, red meat, as well as other commonly consumed foods.  

How does a vitamin D deficiency cause acne and wrinkles?

While the concept that vitamin D can help improve skin and clear acne is much debated, according to Dermatology Times, studies have found a connection between vitamin D deficiency and acne. The exact reason for this is still unknown and is said to be due to a variety of potential reasons from a weakened immune system causing the body to struggle to process and expel toxins to higher stress levels causing acne. For more information and to determine the cause of your acne, check out the complete list of causes of adult acne.

Is there an easy way to check if my hormones are imblanaced?

You can easily test your hormone levels using an at-home hormone test kit. However, keep in mind that it is generally not advised to check hormone levels if you’re taking hormonal birth control as birth control impacts your body’s natural production of hormones (given that you consume synthetic hormones), which can skew test results. In fact, it is typically recommended to wait three to four months to test your hormones after going off of hormonal birth control. Granted, there’s no harm in taking an at-home test even if you’re on birth control. Though if you think you’re experiencing symptoms from birth control, it may be worth finding an alternative form of birth control (many healthier options exist).

Bottom Line: Hormonal Birth Control Depletes Vitamin D

Although hormonal birth control can be a great tool for many women, it’s worth understanding the potential side effects when determining if it’s really the best form of birth control for you. As with anything, everyone’s body will react differently, but in being aware of the potential side effects, you can understand what’s going on in your body and if you do have these side effects you can get to the root of the problem, as opposed to masking the symptoms as many do with excessive caffeine (which comes with its own set of symptoms and side effects). Birth control is meant to help women be in control of their bodies and lives, but in some cases, it has the opposite effect, leaving many out of control of their bodies.

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