Scientists work on oral contraceptive capsules as study finds brains in women may shrink with usage of birth control pills
Almost half of the pregnancies in the US are unplanned, and about 12% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 use birth control pills. Despite this, about 9% of them become pregnant each year.
Once-a-month contraceptive pills could save women the trouble of taking the pills every day. MIT researchers are now developing this monthly capsule, which could reduce unintended pregnancies resulting from forgetting to take a daily dose.
Almost half of the pregnancies in the US are unplanned. And about 12% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 use birth control pills. Despite this, about 9% of them become pregnant each year.
MIT researchers argue that the effectiveness of the pill depends on them being taken every day. Busy lifestyles and associated stress means that millennial women lose out on effective contraception, says a previous study.
"We are hopeful that this work -- the first example ever of a month-long pill or capsule to our knowledge -- will someday lead to potentially new options for women's health as well as other indications," says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT.
"It’s an exciting idea. Long-acting contraceptives tend to be more effective than daily pills. Taking a pill once a month might be more discreet than visiting a clinic or having a visible implant, and so might appeal to women who want to use contraceptives against the wishes of their partners," Stephanie Page at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, who was not involved in the study, told NewScientist.
The monthly contraceptive capsule --coated in gelatin-coated -- can carry three weeks' worth of a contraceptive drug, say the authors. Once swallowed, the drug enters the stomach, where it will be slowly released, over the course of three weeks.
These results were confirmed when the MIT team tested the monthly capsules on pigs. The concentration of the drug found in the pigs' bloodstream was similar to the amount that would be present after ingesting daily contraceptive pills, levonorgestrel tablets, they say. Now, the team will have to work out how changes in body temperature or exposure to certain chemicals could impact the efficacy of the drug.
Key brain region smaller in birth control pill users
As the MIT team works on fine-tuning the drug, before it is considered for approval in women, another recent study throws light on how oral contraceptives could alter the structure of a part of women's brain that controls body temperature, mood, appetite, sex drive, sleep cycles and heart rate: hypothalamus.
"There is a lack of research on the effects of oral contraceptives on this small but essential part of the living human brain," says Dr Michael L Lipton, professor of radiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and medical director of MRI Services at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
MRI scans of 50 healthy women, including 21 women who were taking oral contraceptives, showed that the hypothalamus is smaller in women using birth control pills compared to those who did not.
Lipton explains, "We found a dramatic difference in the size of the brain structures between women who were taking oral contraceptives and those who were not. This initial study shows a strong association and should motivate further investigation into the effects of oral contraceptives on brain structure and their potential impact on brain function."
Scientists are yet to clearly figure out the effects of a smaller hypothalamus. Though Lipton's study finds links between smaller hypothalamus with anger and depression, he maintains that he is yet to confirm the links.
"We are not saying that people should run out and throw away their birth control pills. If anything, the results may simply point to a question that warrants more research, he added," Lipton told LiveScience.