In the UK, an estimated three million women are on the Pill. It’s one of the most effective forms of birth control available, and revolutionised women’s ability to determine the course of their own lives when it was introduced on the NHS in 1961. However, we often hear about its potential negative side effects, from exacerbating anxiety and depression to reducing women's sexual satisfaction.
But now, new research has revealed an unexpected health benefit of taking the Pill – beyond the obvious one of, you know, avoiding unwanted pregnancies.
Scientists in the US have discovered that being on the pill could help increase vitamin D levels by around 20%. In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers measured the vitamin D levels of nearly 1,700 African-American women aged between 23 and 34 over two years.
People with darker skin are more at risk of being deficient in vitamin D – so focusing on this particular demographic meant that researchers could compare results fairly.
They found that women on some types of Pill containing oestrogen, such as Microgynon, Rigevidon and Loestrin 20, had significantly higher levels of vitamin D. While they aren’t yet sure why this might be, the findings suggest that taking the Pill could play a major role in higher vitamin D.
Good news for women on the Pill, then – particularly those of us living in rainy Britain. Sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s produced in the skin in response to sunlight, Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphorous in our bodies, as well as helping maintain a healthy immune system.
Dr Quaker Harmon, the study’s lead author, warns that women who come off the Pill to start trying for a baby should make sure that they are still getting enough vitamin D.
“Women who discontinue oestregon-containing contraception to start a pregnancy attempt may be at risk of falling (vitamin D) during the important preconception and early gestation period,” she says. “For women who are planning to stop using birth control, it is worth taking steps to ensure that vitamin D levels are adequate while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.”
The NHS already recommends that all adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, take a daily vitamin D supplement – particularly between October and March, when the dingy weather means we’re unlikely to get the nourishment we need from natural sunlight.