Oral contraceptives (OCs), or birth control pills, are some of the most effective contraceptive drugs.

These medications include:

  • Alesse
  • Brevicon
  • Demulen
  • Desogen
  • Estrostep
  • Genora
  • Jenest
  • Levlen
  • Levlite
  • Levora
  • Loestrin
  • Lo/Ovral
  • Micronor
  • Mircette
  • Modicon
  • Nelova
  • Nordette
  • Norethin
  • Norinyl
  • Nor-Q.D.
  • Ortho-Cept
  • Ortho Cyclen
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Ovcon
  • Ovral
  • Ovrette
  • Tri-Levlen
  • Tri-Norinyl
  • Triphasil
  • Zovia
  • and others
  • Folate

    Supplementation Possibly Helpful

    Although the evidence is not consistent, women who are taking OCs may need extra folate. 1-5

    Since folate deficiency is fairly common even among women who are not taking OCs, and it's not wise to be lacking in an essential nutrient, taking a folate supplement on general principle is probably a good idea.

    Other Nutrients

    Supplementation Possibly Helpful

    Evidence from several studies suggests that OCs might interfere with the absorption or metabolism of magnesium , vitamin B 2 , vitamin C , and zinc . 6-12 With the exception of the trials involving magnesium, these studies used older, high-dose OCs. Modern, low-dose OCs may not affect nutrients to the same extent; still, you should probably make sure you get enough of these nutrients.

    St. John's Wort

    Decreased Effectiveness of Drug

    Reliable case reports, as well as controlled clinical trials, indicate that St. John's wort interferes with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives and may have led to unwanted pregnancies. 13,20,25


    Possible Reduced Effectiveness of Drug

    Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a substance found in broccoli that is thought to have cancer preventive effects. One of its mechanisms of action is thought to involve facilitating the inactivation of estrogen, as well as blocking its effects on cells. 21-24 The net result could be decreased effectiveness of oral contraceptives.

    Dong Quai , St. John's Wort

    Possible Harmful Interaction

    OCs have been reported to cause increased sensitivity to the sun, amplifying the risk of sunburn or skin rash. Because dong quai and St. John's wort may also cause this problem, taking these herbal supplements while taking OCs might add to this risk.

    It may be a good idea to wear sunscreen or protective clothing during sun exposure if you take one of these herbs while using OCs.


    Possible Harmful Interaction

    Weak evidence hints that the herb rosemary may enhance the liver’s ability to deactivate estrogen in the body. 26 This could potentially interfere with the activity of medications that contain estrogen.

    Grapefruit Juice

    Possible Harmful Interaction

    Grapefruit juice slows the body's normal breakdown of several drugs, including estrogen, allowing it to build up to potentially excessive levels in the blood. 14 A recent study indicates this effect can last for 3 days or more following the last glass of juice. 15

    If you take estrogen, the safest approach is to avoid grapefruit juice altogether.


    Possible Harmful Interaction

    The supplement resveratrol has a chemical structure similar to that of the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol and produces estrogenic-like effects. 16 For this reason, it should not be combined with prescription estrogen products.

    Milk Thistle

    Possible Decreased Action of Drug

    One report has noted that an ingredient of milk thistle, silibinin, can inhibit a bacterial enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. This enzyme helps oral contraceptives work. 17 Taking milk thistle could, therefore, reduce the effectiveness of OCs.


    Theoretical Harmful Interaction

    Androstenedione has become popular as a sports supplement, on the theory that it increases testosterone levels as well as sports performance. However, there is no evidence that it is effective. In addition, androstenedione appears more likely to elevate estrogen than testosterone levels. This could increase risks of developing estrogen-related diseases, including breast and uterine cancers. Women taking estrogen should not take androstenedione. 18


    Probably No Interaction

    Fears have been expressed by some experts that soy or soy isoflavones might interfere with the action of oral contraceptives. However, one study of 36 women suggests that such concerns are groundless. 19