Enabling women to make choices about their fertility offers them better economic and social opportunities. Managing lesser known but important side effects, can reduce concerns for users of oral contraceptives, including the depletion of vitamins.

Over-the-counter vitamin supplements are useful for managing lesser known but important side effects for users of oral contraceptives.

Enabling women to make choices about their fertility is empowering and offers women better economic and social opportunities. Since their introduction in 1960, there have been many advances towards minimising the side effects of oral contraceptives (OCs) and thus to improving compliance.   Lower dose oral contraceptive formulations have resulted in a decrease in side effects such as breast tenderness and bloating.

Many users are however unaware of less obvious OC-induced side effects, resulting from the depletion of certain nutrients, such as some of the vitamin B group.  Greater knowledge of the most common nutritional shortages and their possible impact, should assist users of OCs to decide, in consultation with their physician, whether they would benefit from taking appropriate dietary supplements.

Medical disorders that can occur because of vitamin or mineral deficiencies caused by OCs include cardiovascular disorders such as high blood pressure and thrombosis; anaemia and anorexia, as well as the more serious neural tube defects (NTDs) occurring during pregnancy.  NTDs result from the failure of the neural tube of the embryo to close by the fourth week of pregnancy, causing birth defects of the brain and spine.

Some of the key vitamins and minerals that may be deficient in women taking OCs include B vitamins (in particular Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12), folic acid and zinc. Vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with a heightened risk of arterial and venous thromboembolism while Vitamin B12 is essential for cell growth and replication. Both Vitamin B12 and folic acid are important in the prevention of NTDs, while folic acid prevents anaemia.

Zinc plays an important role in the proper function of the immune system and cell growth, while a lack of zinc may lead to anorexia, anaemia, atherosclerosis or affect the immune system.

Efforts to prevent micronutrient depletion with supplements or food should be considered for women who take OC for a long period. Taking appropriate dietary supplements is recommended as the first step, as various factors such as bioavailability, diet, unhealthy lifestyles and illness can also have an impact on the availability of certain nutrients.

Correct supplementation is essential for maintaining health during pregnancy. OC-GAP capsules, recently launched by the OTC division of Adcock Ingram, are a combination of essential nutrients that may be depleted as a result of contraceptive treatment.  OC-GAP is formulated to offer a convenient once daily dosage and each capsule contains: 10 mg of Vitamin B6; 0.1 mg Vitamin B12; 0.4 mg Folic Acid and 15 mg Zinc.