Hormones in Birth Control Pills Could Be Greatly Reduced: Study

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April 14, 2023 – Birth control pills and other forms of contraception could still prevent pregnancy with drastically reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone, a new study says. 

The total hormonal dose could be cut by 92% in contraceptives that contain only estrogen and could be cut by 43% in contraceptives that contain only progesterone, said the study, which was published in PLOS Computational Biology. But the contraceptives would need to be delivered during a specific time in a woman’s menstrual cycle.  Doses could be cut even more by combining those hormones, the researchers said.

Researchers at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City came to their conclusions by using a computer model of the menstrual cycle and adding real-world data about the hormone levels of 23 women ages 20 to 34 with normal menstrual cycles.

The researchers said their computer simulations showed that it was most effective to deliver the estrogen contraceptive in the mid-follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. That’s the first of two stages of a normal cycle for a woman. 

Cutting the hormone levels would provide many health benefits, Pamela Berens, MD, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, told Healthline

“This reduces potential risks for both complications and side effects,” she said. 

Complications of high hormonal doses include blood clots, heart attacks, pulmonary embolism, and stroke. Side effects include nausea, breast tenderness, bloating, and crankiness. 

The study comes as drug companies are gradually reducing the amounts of hormones in contraceptives, experts say. 

“Through the years, safer contraception has been achieved by reducing the dosage of hormonal contraceptives,” Brenda Lyn Gavina, one of the researchers, told the outlet. “Our study suggests a method on how ovulation can be suppressed. When more data becomes available, our mathematical model could be coupled with a pharmacokinetics model to obtain patient-specific dosing schemes.”