December 3, 2008

Take the Pill? Take Care

A new study shows that women using oral contraceptives are at risk for vitamin B6 deficiency

By Julie Flaherty

Three-quarters of women taking oral contraceptives—but not supplements—had low blood levels of vitamin B6. Photo: iStockphoto

Women who take birth control pills may be at risk for vitamin B6 deficiency, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Martha Savaria Morris, an epidemiologist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, found that three-quarters of women taking oral contraceptives—but not supplements—had low blood levels of the vitamin. Even women who reported using oral contraceptives but who were no longer using them at the time of the survey came up short, with 40 percent showing inadequate levels of B6.

“This finding is troublesome because women commonly discontinue contraception so they can become pregnant,” says Morris, pointing out that through its role in protein and fat metabolism, B6 is essential to normal fetal development. “My greatest concern would be for women entering pregnancy—when not only the woman but her fetus is depending on her vitamin B6 level.”

Although the pill takers stood out, many of the nearly 8,000 men, women and children surveyed showed inadequate B6 status, even when they reported consuming more than their recommended daily allowance of the vitamin.

This could mean that for healthy immune systems and normal brain function people need to take in more B6 than once thought, although more study is needed. If you’re looking for B6, baked potatoes, bananas and chicken are all good sources.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at

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