Many women choose oral contraceptives for the relative ease of use and effectiveness. But one thing that is often overlooked is the link to mental health, especially anxiety and depression. While many women do not report any problems, enough women do make this something to be aware of when choosing your contraceptive method.
About oral contraceptives
Oral contraceptives are a form of hormonal birth control. They use a chemical version of female sex hormones (progesterone and estrogen) in some combination to prevent ovulation and thus prevent pregnancy. But with any prescription medication, there are some risks along with the benefits.
Oral contraceptives can deplete your body of several nutrients. These include B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. Vitamin B6 is needed for your body to make serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin helps to regulate your mood and melatonin helps to regulate sleep. Magnesium and zinc also help to regulate melatonin levels and improve sleep and calm the nervous system, thus making anxiety less likely. We know that vitamin C is important for immunity, but it also helps reduce levels of stress hormones.
Effects on the brain
Like many areas of women's health, studies of women taking oral contraceptives are relatively rare. One preliminary study showed a smaller hypothalamus in women taking oral contraceptives. The hypothalamus is the area of the brain that controls feelings of anger and depression.
The cause of these changes is not yet known. but may be due to the hormones in the oral contraceptives, or the nutrient depletion mentioned earlier.
Another study noted increased activation of the prefrontal cortex. This affects how women process memory
and emotions especially those related to negative and stressful events.
Some women find that oral contraceptives can make their moods more stable, many others find that their moods change. The hormonal effects of oral contraceptives vary from woman to woman.
Thyroid hormones can also be affected by oral contraceptives. Low th
yroid hormone levels can also contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety is a frequent side effect of hypothyroidism.
Women taking oral contraceptives may have lower levels of testosterone which contributes to several sexual side effects including lack of libido. These can increase the risk of depression.
Are you at risk
There is some evidence that women who are already at risk for anxiety or depression are more likely to experience effects from hormonal contraceptives. But more women take prescription medication for anxiety and depression after starting oral contraceptives. Unfortunately, these medications also have several side effects and are difficult to get off of.
What can you do?
If anxiety or depression are becoming a problem for you you may want to consider non hormonal contraceptive methods. If you are taking oral contraceptives, then there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of developing anxiety or depression related to this method of contraception.
You may need to supplement the vitamins and minerals that are depleted by using oral contraceptives. This will help to reduce the risks of the nutrients associated with better mental health.
Tests to consider
Aside from having your nutrient levels tested, especially after a change to any medications you take, you may also want to make sure that your thyroid levels are tested.
Book a free nutrition assessment
I am a clinical nutritionist and can help you to establish the right nutritional supplement protocol and advise you on medical and nutritional tests to consider. Book a free nutritional assessment here.
Talk to your physician
Anxiety and depression should not be taken lightly. If you are experiencing symptoms talk to your physician about any medications you are taking.
Your choice of contraceptive methods is complicated by many different factors. The effect on mental health is one factor that needs to be considered.