Holistic treatments are supposed to be good for you…but they could secretly be affecting your birth control.
As a sexually active woman who has been on birth control since she was 17, I’ve made it my business to know what things could potentially inhibit my contraceptives. Some things just don’t mix; but while antidepressants and antibiotics are widely-known to interact negatively with B.C., I was shocked to learn that some herbal supplements also mess with the integrity of birth control.
A natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin encourages sleep. Some people who experience trouble falling or staying asleep may opt to take synthetic melatonin in a pill or gummy form, but this can interfere with family planning. Oral contraceptives increase the natural amount of melatonin the body makes, so when combined with synthetic melatonin, the efficacy of the birth control could potentially be compromised due to too much meltatonin production.
St. John’s Wort
It’s a naturally-occurring herb known for remedying mood disorders such as moderate depression, but it has recently entered the limelight for its manipulation of birth control. Because oral contraceptives and St. John’s Wort are both absorbed through the same enzyme pathway located in the liver, SJW decreases the amount of the Pill that’s absorbed, therefore lowering its effectiveness.
Many turn to soybeans as a holistic treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCS), a hormonal disorder that causes the ovaries to enlarge and develop cysts. This is because soybeans are composed of compounds—called phytoestrogens— that simulate the role of estrogen. Sounds good, save that the downfall of imitating estrogen is that it replaces the natural production of estrogen. This can result in infertility, breast cancer, and decreased libido.
Taken to aid myriad issues of the digestive system such as heartburn, ulcers, inflammation, and infection, natural licorice contains many beneficial uses. But women on birth control should be wary of its disadvantages, namely that the compounds in licorice root disturb sex hormone production in the ovaries and could cause pregnancy.
Red clover has a vast repertoire of ailments it can alleviate, including PMS, respiratory issues, cancer, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, and more. However, it too contains phytoestrogens, which work against the natural reproductive cycle and could therefore null the desired effect of birth control pills.
It’s known as “female ginseng” and is said to be great for treating PMS, cramps, and even irregular periods. Like other supplements included in this list, Dong Quai has estrogen-esque effects on the body, causing it to rework the natural estrous cycle.
Though wild yam has been heralded as a fertility stimulator and “cure” for complaints such as vaginal dryness, PMS, and menstrual cramps, there have been recent research developments that deem the usage of wild yam supplements unsafe to mix with oral contraceptives. While not proven, it is thought that wild yam can negatively affect birth control, rendering it inefficient, because it contains too-high levels of progesterone.
Slippery elm, guar gum, psyllium, oat and wheat bran, flax seed oil—these are all common types of dietary fiber that affect the absorption of OCP. These fibers cause the Pill to be digested quicker, interfering with its natural cycle of absorption. When less of the Pill is absorbed, its effectiveness is significantly impacted.
Emmenagogues are oils that trigger blood flow in the pelvis and uterus and can stimulate a woman’s period. Since black snakeroot (also known as Black Cohosh) contains a high potency of emmenagogues, taking this supplement can affect fertility and menstruation. If not properly monitored, mixing birth control and snakeroot could cause an unintended pregnancy.
Known by its more common nicknames, chasteberry and monk’s pepper, Vitex is also used by women to treat symptoms of PMS. Vitex—the fruit found on chaste trees—modulates levels by preventing the release of the follicle stimulating hormone. When combined with oral contraceptives, it could also modulate the synthetic hormones, influencing the effectiveness of the Pill.