While mainstream medicine focuses its attention on poor dietary habits as a major cause of nutrient deficiency, one man is shining a light on another, potentially more nutrient-sapping culprit: prescription drugs; more specifically, oral contraceptives.1
“Oral contraceptives deplete nutrients more than any other class of drugs,” Ross Pelton, author of the new book, The Pill Problem, says. “The hormones in these drugs are very strong chemicals. I don’t believe nature ever intended for women to put these hormones in their mouths or to have them introduced in their gastrointestinal tracts. Once there, they cause irritation that heavily interferes with the absorption of nutrients.”2
Pelton is a pharmacist, a health educator, a Certified Clinical Nutritionist, and the author of several books, including The Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, The Natural Therapeutics Pocket Guide, How to Prevent Breast Cancer, and Mind Food and Smart Pills.
“When it comes down to it, all the B vitamins are depleted from oral contraceptive use,” Pelton says.1,3 “Magnesium, selenium, zinc, and CoQ10 are depleted as well.1,3,4 When I started to look at the incredible range of nutrients that are depleted by a pill many women take on a regular basis, I started to realize that there are a lot of potential health problems that are exacerbated by these issues.”
These issues manifest themselves in many ways. A direct lack of absorption of folate or certain B vitamins can result in a deficiency that causes a loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, headaches, and in severe cases, heart palpitations. Advanced deficiency could even lead to anemia.5
In addition, downstream health hazards from poor nutrient absorption may be just as dangerous.
“When certain nutrients related to mood are poorly absorbed due to contraceptive use, it increases the likelihood that a woman will become depressed,” Pelton explains. “And anti-depressant drugs are brutal with their side effects. I know that the pill was one of the most important social and cultural revolutions in the entire world. My message to women is that there are some natural and relatively easy and inexpensive steps they can take to correct many of these problems related to oral contraceptives.”
Some Surprising Studies
Two of the nutrient depletions that Pelton is most concerned about regarding women taking oral contraceptives are vitamin B6 and tyrosine.
“Vitamin B6 is required for the production of serotonin,” he says.6 “Serotonin gets converted to melatonin, which is why a B6 deficiency may lead to sleep problems.6 Sleep problems are often diagnosed and treated with drugs, when a B6 supplement may be effective. Any time I can keep a woman off prescription drugs I consider it a service.”
Pelton points out that some studies show that oral contraceptives deplete tyrosine as well.7 Tyrosine is a precursor for the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are involved in a vast array of brain functions, including motivation, stress, cognition, and arousal.
“One doctor in Australia compared the use of oral contraceptives over time with women who didn’t use them,” Pelton says. “The study revealed that the women taking the contraceptives were almost two times as likely to develop depression as non-users.8 It’s no wonder that there has been a greater incidence of depression recently.”
The ultimate problem with these deficiencies and all the others that exist with both oral contraceptives and prescription drugs in general is the lack of awareness on the part of the general public.
“If an individual is prescribed a drug and there is an interaction or side effect, you usually know relatively quickly if there is a problem,” Pelton says. “You get a rash or nausea or whatever the symptoms are. But nutrient depletion happens gradually over time. You may be seemingly without problems for years.”
Over the last six months, Pelton has listened to women increasingly complain about a wide range of seemingly generic problems, including a lack of energy, restless sleep, and malaise. He says that women need to understand that a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folic acid or magnesium or even selenium can cause a number of those problems.
With oral contraceptives and prescription drugs hindering the population’s ability to process nutrients, supplementation is more important than ever.
“I think that a basic one-a-day vitamin is insufficient,” Pelton says. “I think the RDA (recommended daily allowance) really stands for Really Dumb Allowance. It has virtually nothing to do with nutrient balance. When I meet with people, I try to get them started on something like the Life Extension ® Two-Per-Day, which is one of the best examples of a quality, formulated supplement.”
Pelton says that a good overall nutritional supplement program can compensate for a majority of the side effects induced by drugs. He points to CoQ10 as an example.
“CoQ10 is one of the most critical nutrients for energy production at a cellular level,” he says. “Depletion can lead to fatigue and low energy levels over time. It can lead to sore and achy muscles and even headaches. A simple, quality CoQ10 supplement can eliminate these problems and prevent them from occurring again if they’re the result of low levels of that enzyme.”
Pelton goes a step further and cites a study from Australia that claims that the real, primary cause of aging is free radical damage in your mitochondrial DNA.9 Without an extensive network of repair enzymes in the cell, this free radical damage becomes long-term and non-reversible.9
“CoQ10 deficiency may accelerate the process,” he says. “Supplementation may do the reverse.”
On A Personal Level
Pelton has been subscribing to Life Extension since it was a simple eight-page newsletter, and he is a member of the Medical Advisory Board.
“I’ve been in touch with Bill Faloon over the years and I’ve always been impressed with Life Extension’s commitment to quality. I feel really comfortable recommending Life Extension products. They’re high end, very pure, with active ingredients. Not to mention the fact that the magazine itself and the staff in general provide a phenomenal service in terms of health and supplement education.”
Pelton takes a vast array of Life Extension products, including Life Extension Mix, vitamin C, vitamin D, CoQ10, Omega-3, Cognitex, chromium, curcumin, resveratrol, Ultra Natural Prostate Formula, DHEA, acetyl-l-carnitine, and tocotrienols.
“I’m also really hot on the importance of probiotics,” he says.
In addition to a thorough supplement regimen and a diet filled with healthy, organic foods, Pelton works out heavily and has recently become involved with CrossFit exercise. For those not familiar, CrossFit training involves a mix of high intensity aerobic exercises with strength training, Olympic movements, and body weight movements.
“I am a total convert,” he says. “I try to go three times a week. For people that can put that kind of effort into a workout, I think you really get the most bang for your buck in terms of intense physical fitness.”
Of course, there is a major health payoff as well.
“I recently read about a study from a group of Italian gerontologists who examined a large group of elderly people who were healthy,” he says.10 “Instead of looking at old people who were sick and trying to figure out why they were sick, they looked at hundreds of different parameters involving the healthy people, and it turns out the number one thing you can do for healthy aging is to maintain your muscle mass as you age.”
With a healthy diet, a healthy supplement regimen, and a healthy exercise program, Ross Pelton will be able to help people counteract the nutrient problems caused by prescription drugs for many, many years to come.
For information about ordering The Pill Problem, please visit: www.thepillproblem.com.
For general information on Ross Pelton, please visit: www.naturalpharmacist.net.
Ross Pelton began his career in the health sciences by graduating from the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy in 1966. Ross worked as a pharmacist for a number of years before joining the Peace Corps in 1972. He taught high school chemistry for 2 years in Malaysia, and also closely observed the village shamans and native healing arts in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. In addition to his extensive work as a book author, in the 1980s he spent time as a cancer researcher at the University of California San Diego and eventually became the administrator of an alternative cancer treatment hospital in Baja, Mexico. In 1994 Ross became a certified clinical nutritionist. A significant part of Ross’ career has been devoted to speaking, writing, and conducting seminars on a variety of health-related topics.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.
- Webb JL. Nutritional effects of oral contraceptive use: a review. J Reprod Med. 1980 Oct;25(4):150-6.
- Khalili H, Higuchi LM, Ananthakrishnan AN, et al. Oral contraceptives, reproductive factors and risk of inflammatory bowel disease. Gut. 2013 Aug;62(8):1153-9.
- Palmery M, Saraceno A, Vaiarelli A, Carlomagno G. Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Jul;17(13):1804-13.
- Palan PR, Magneson AT, Castillo M, Dunne J, Mikhail MS. Effects of menstrual cycle and oral contraceptive use on serum levels of lipid-soluble antioxidants. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006 May;194(5):e35-8.
- Available at: http://www.pediatriconcall.com/nutrition/vitaminb.asp. Accessed July 22, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/11/1/52.pdf. Accessed July 22, 2013.
- Møller SE. Effect of oral contraceptives on tryptophan and tyrosine availability: evidence for a possible contribution to mental depression. Neuropsychobiology. 1981;7(4):192-200.
- Kulkarni J, Liew J, Garland KA. Depression associated with combined oral contraceptives--a pilot study. Aust Fam Physician. 2005 Nov;34(11):990.
- Linnane AW, Zhang C, Baumer A, Nagley P. Mitochondrial DNA mutation and the ageing process: bioenergy and pharmacological intervention. Mutat Res. 1992 Sep;275(3-6):195-208.
- Ravaglia G, Forti P, Maioli F, et al. Determinants of functional status in healthy Italian nonagenarians and centenarians: a comprehensive functional assessment by the instruments of geriatric practice. J Am Geriatr Soc. 1997 Oct;45(10):1196-202.