Factors affecting the enterohepatic circulation of oral contraceptive steroids

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1990 Dec;163(6 Pt 2):2146-52. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(90)90555-l.


Oral contraceptive steroids may undergo enterohepatic circulation, but it is relevant for only estrogens, because these compounds can be directly conjugated in the liver. Animal studies show convincing evidence of the importance of the enterohepatic circulation, but studies in humans are much less convincing. The importance of the route and the rate of metabolism of ethinyl estradiol are reviewed. Some antibiotics have been reported anecdotally to reduce the efficacy of oral contraceptive steroids, but controlled studies have not confirmed this observation. Although gut flora are altered by oral antibiotics, the blood levels of ethinyl estradiol are not reduced, and one antibiotic at least (cotrimoxazole) enhances the activity of ethinyl estradiol.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / blood
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / pharmacokinetics*
  • Enterohepatic Circulation*
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / blood
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / pharmacokinetics
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Ethinyl Estradiol