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How Antibiotics & Grapefruit Affect Your Birth Control, Plus 5 Other Things To Know When Using Hormonal Contraception

birth control, grapefruit juice, antibiotics, effectiveness
Contributor
Health And Wellness, Sex

If you're not wanting to get pregnant, you need to know these things.

Like most women, I'm on some form of birth control. Right now I use a hormonal birth control in the form of an implant that goes into my arm. A few weeks ago I got sick and had to be put on antibiotics, so I asked if I had to use a backup form of birth control — and was shocked when my doctor said no. I used to be on "the pill" — AKA a pill version of hormonal contraception that you have to take daily at the same time — and was so used to getting that speech from my doctor that I started to question why the antibiotics weren't going to cancel out my new birth control.

After some digging, it turns out that it isn't birth control that gets messed with, it's what's inside of it. 

Here's everthing you need to know about what can affect the effectiveness of your birth control and how.



RELATED: A Guide To The Best Birth Control For Every Type Of Woman


Know what kind of birth control you're on.

There are two ways that antibiotics can affect your birth control. The first is extremely important if your form of birth control contains estrogen. The one that I have doesn't, which is why I was okay.

Some antibiotics can cause the enzymes in your liver to break down estrogen faster than usual. This lowers the amount of estrogen in your body and makes the pill less effective.

So if your BC is estrogen based, make sure you check with your doctor before taking any antibiotics. 

The other way that it can mess with how well your BC works is by reducing the re-circulation of estrogens within your body. Usually, your body can convert the broken down estrogen back into its active form and allow your body to absorb it. If it's getting broken down too fast, your body doesn't have time to do that. It will lead to lower levels of estrogen and could cause unwanted pregnancy. 


Does grapefruit affect birth control?

You'll notice that some over the counter medicines have a label that warns you not to take them with grapefruit juice. It sounds super weird and is something you've probably never even thought about, but's worth considering. 

It turns out that chemicals in grapefruits interfere with the same enzyme as those antibiotics do. 

When it comes to the pill and other medicines, grapefruit juice decreases the breakdown of estrogen in the body. This leads to an increase of hormones, which won't make your pill less effective, but it can increase the risk of potential side effects of the pill, such as blood clots and breast cancer. 

It's also worth mentioning that there hasn't been a large amount of scientific research on this, so it hasn't been proven, but it is definitely still something to watch out for. 


RELATED: 3 Simple Tips For Talking To Your Partner About Birth Control (And What You Need To Know Before You Start)


What else can affect your birth control?


1. IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

If you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease or other digestive disorders, it may prevent your body from absorbing the estrogen from the pill correctly, making it less effective. If you have a chronic issue like this, tell your doctor and ask about non-oral methods of contraception. 


2. Smoking cigarettes.

We all know smoking while on the pill can cause blood clots and heart attacks, but it can also diminish the effectiveness of the pill. Smoking can lead to straight up pill failure. If you are a heavy smoker you should switch from the pill to another form of birth control to avoid these risks. 


3. Herbal remedies and supplements.

Wanting to go all natural is perfectly okay, but mixing nature with your pill could lead to serious consequences. Some can reduce the effectiveness and others can cause the pill to fail completely. If you're taking St. John's Wort for sleeping troubles or depression and you're on the pill, you may want to switch to a different rememdy as it could cause your BC to fail. Same goes for Garlic pills, alfalfa, flaxseed and saw palmetto. 


4. Not taking your pills at the right time.

Personally, when I was on the pill I took it at whatever time I woke up. As a college student who woke up at 8 AM some days and noon on others, this wasn't the best practice. Making sure you take your pill at the same time, if not within a 3-hour window, every day will ensure it's as effective as possible. Taking it at random times (i.e. taking it like I did) will significantly lower its effectiveness against pregnancy. Forgetting a dose can take the effectiveness down from 99% to 91%, which is less than condoms. 


5. Certain medications.

Medications like antidepressants can affect your hormone levels. Diabetic medication can also reduce the effectiveness, as well as some HIV medications. Most common medications should be okay, but always ask your doctor before starting a new medication just in case.


RELATED: What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Taking Birth Control


Josie Fuller is a writer who studies Journalism and Women's Studies at The University of Florida. When she’s not researching writing about astrology, love and relationships, she enjoys spending her time watching Bob's Burgers and baking.