Do birth control pills cause depression in teenagers?

Dr. Rebecca Tocher-Richmond, ND

A group of 1010 females aged 16-25 were followed up for 9 years to examine the association between oral contraceptive (OCP) use and depressive symptoms.   This study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.  OCP use as a whole was NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms BUT at age 16 years old, girls who used OCP did have higher rates of depression compared to 16 year olds who weren’t on the pill.  More crying, eating problems and hypersomnia was observed in the young women.  It was suggested that girls’ brains are still developing at 16 and therefore are more affected by the OCPs than a 22 or 25 year old.   The authors also noted that in contrast to adult depression which usually includes loss of interest or pleasure, teenage depression is more characterized by physical disturbances such as loss of energy, changes in weight, appetite and sleep.

Many young women are prescribed oral contraceptive pills to regulate their periods or for painful periods.  Naturopathic medicine offers many effective solutions for these troubling symptoms.  Herbs, nutritional supplements and dietary changes usually work particularly well in young, otherwise healthy patients.   If a woman decides that staying on OCPs is the best option for her, nutritional supplements can reduce the risk of depression and other side effects.   Research has shown that women taking OCPs have lower levels of several B vitamins in their bodies.   These same vitamins are important in the prevention of mood disorders and other side effects of oral contraceptive use.   As always, I recommend consulting with one of our Naturopathic Doctors for a treatment plan specific to you!

1.  de Wit AE, Booij SH, Giltay EJ, Joffe H, Schoevers RA, Oldehinkel AJ. Association of use of oral contraceptives with depressive symptoms among adolescents and young women. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online October 2, 2019. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2751923. Accessed October 2, 2019.

2.  McArthur JO, Tang H, Petocz P, Samman S. Biological variability and impact of oral contraceptives on vitamins B(6), B(12) and folate status in women of reproductive age. Nutrients. 2013;5(9):3634‐3645. Published 2013 Sep 16. doi:10.3390/nu5093634

3.  Var C, Keller S, Tung R, Freeland D, Bazzano AN. Supplementation with vitamin B6 reduces side effects in Cambodian women using oral contraception. Nutrients. 2014;6(9):3353‐3362. Published 2014 Aug 26. doi:10.3390/nu6093353