Birth Control and Mood Swings: What Can You Do About Them?

Birth Control and Mood Swings: What Can You Do About Them?

Women have been attempting to plan their families since the beginning of time, but major advancements in contraception were made with the introduction of the birth control pill in 1960. Hormonal contraceptives like the birth control pill have become extremely popular due to their effectiveness; after female sterilization, oral contraceptives are the most popular option for birth control. Unfortunately, hormonal contraceptives are linked to numerous side effects, including mood swings, that make them intolerable for some women. Fortunately, it is possible to minimize the impact of birth control and certain side effects, like mood swings. 

What are the different types of birth control?

There are a number of different ways to prevent pregnancy, the majority of which are marketed to women. Choosing birth control options, including implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other types of birth control that impact the body, is often left up to women, as they are the ones who are immediately impacted by pregnancy. Non-hormonal, hormonal, and permanent forms of birth control exist. Couples choosing non-hormonal forms of birth control must choose this form of protection each time they have intercourse. Non-hormonal forms of birth control include:

  • Condoms
  • Withdrawal/pull out method
  • Breastfeeding as birth control
  • Internal condoms
  • Cervical caps
  • Spermicide
  • Diaphragms
  • Birth control sponges
  • Fertility awareness
  • Outercourse and abstinence

Permanent forms of birth control include tubal ligation and vasectomy. Both types involve a surgical procedure, and tubal ligation prevents pregnancy in the woman while vasectomy prevents sperm from being released. The non-hormonal forms of birth control listed above must be used each time a couple has intercourse, while permanent forms of birth control do not require any additional steps after the procedure. Hormonal forms of birth control are longer-term than non-hormonal forms of birth control but are not permanent. Types of hormonal birth control include:

  • Birth control pill
  • Birth control implants
  • Hormonal IUDs
  • Birth control patch
  • Birth control shot
  • Birth control vaginal ring

Hormonal birth control can take the form of combination contraception, which includes both progestin and estrogen hormones, or progestin-only pills, each of which has different benefits. Hormonal forms of birth control have different rates of effectiveness; hormonal IUDs are about 99.9 percent effective, while birth control pills are about 93 percent effective. Not all IUDs are hormonal; copper IUDs do not contain hormones and can also be used for the long term prevention of pregnancy. Non-hormonal and permanent types of birth control have not been linked to mood swings or changes in emotional and mental health. However, some patients experience mood swings, depression, and other mental health changes while taking hormonal birth control.

Does hormonal birth control cause mood swings?

Women have been complaining about emotional and mental health side effects of hormonal birth control since the first birth control pill was released in 1960, but most forms of hormonal birth control still do not list mood swings or depression as common side effects. Researchers have long tried to make a clear connection between hormonal birth control and mood fluctuations with varying degrees of success. A study conducted by Harvard found that 16.3 percent of women taking oral contraceptives reported that their mood worsened while taking birth control than when not taking the contraceptive; this effect was more pronounced in women with a history of depression. Another study found that users of hormonal contraceptives had lower mean levels of depression symptoms than women using a different form of birth control or no contraception at all. Although no conclusive determination has been made about the effects of hormonal contraceptives on mood, what is known is that the number one reason why women stop taking hormonal contraceptives is depressive symptoms. Oral contraceptives affect each woman differently, and some women may be more susceptible to mood swings and emotional changes while taking birth control.

Why do women use hormonal birth control?

With all of the concern about the side effects of hormonal forms of birth control, it’s easy to question why women bother to use it when there are other options out there. Although many women do use hormonal forms of birth control to prevent pregnancy, there are other benefits of using oral contraceptives as well. Hormonal forms of birth control are used by many women to reduce pain associated with their menstrual periods, reduce menstrual flow/heavy periods, and lower the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy. Other benefits of hormonal contraceptives include the prevention or reduction of the following: 

  • Serious infections of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus
  • Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS
  • Acne
  • Cysts in the ovaries or breasts
  • Endometrial and ovarian cancers
  • Iron deficiency
  • Loss of bone density

Although women need not be sexually active or physically able to carry a child to use hormonal contraception, the medication should only be used by females who have started menstruating. Because there are many different reasons why women use hormonal forms of contraception besides birth control, it’s not always possible or realistic for women to stop taking their medication when they experience side effects. To meet the needs of women who want to take birth control but are concerned about side effects, some companies have begun to research how nutritional support can prevent or reduce common side effects.

How can the risk of mood swings be minimized while taking birth control?

Although a conclusive link between mood swings and hormonal forms of birth control has not yet been proven or disproven, there is sound research regarding the effects of hormonal birth control on other aspects of women’s health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hormonal forms of birth control can contribute to nutritional deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E, folic acid, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Evidence of the nutritional impact of oral contraceptives was revealed in a large literature review that linked hormonal forms of birth control to diminished levels of vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 in the body. Each of these vitamins plays an important role in the function of the body, but vitamin B6 deficiency is linked to depression and mood issues in women taking oral contraceptives. Vitamin B6 deficiency has been found to contribute to depression in women who are taking oral contraceptives because low levels of vitamin B6 reduce the amount of tryptophan in the brain, and tryptophan is needed for the production of serotonin. Low levels of vitamins C and E, which are important antioxidants, contributes to chronic inflammation in the body caused by a state called oxidative stress, in which the free radicals in the body cause damage to cells and DNA in the body due to an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. Oxidative stress has been linked to mental health issues, including depression, in several studies. Researchers have linked low folate levels to depression and other mood concerns because low folate levels correspond to a reduced likelihood of effective treatment with antidepressants as compared to people with normal or high folate levels.  

While there may be other forms of birth control that are a suitable alternative for the prevention of pregnancy, hormonal forms of birth control are used by women for a variety of different reasons, and avoiding them is not always the best option. Recognizing the link between nutritional deficiencies and impacts on mental health and mood caused by hormonal contraceptives, some companies have begun to create supplements designed to address these deficiencies and make birth control more tolerable. Today, it is possible for women to use hormonal contraceptives in conjunction with a specially formulated dietary supplement that is designed to correct the nutritional deficiencies associated with prolonged use of hormonal contraception. These supplements provide therapeutic doses of the vitamins and minerals most commonly depleted by oral contraceptives and also provide mitochondrial antioxidants, which reduces the likelihood that women will experience potential side effects like mood swings, low libido, headaches, depression, fatigue, and weight gain.