High level of hor­mones from birth con­trol pills

New Straits Times - - Heal -

A NEW US study has raised ques­tions about the safety of some forms of birth con­trol pills, find­ing that women who take cer­tain forms of this con­tra­cep­tion have much higher lev­els of hor­mones than women who don’t.

The study looked at women’s lev­els of pro­ges­terone and es­tro­gen, both pro­duced by the ovaries and in lev­els that nat­u­rally vary over the course of the men­strual cy­cle.

In women who take the pill, these nat­u­rally re­leased hor­mones are re­placed by syn­thetic ver­sions in or­der to pre­vent preg­nancy, with pro­ges­terone re­placed by pro­gestin, and es­tro­gen re­placed by ethinyl estra­diol.

The new study wanted to look at whether these syn­thetic ver­sions in­creased a woman’s ex­po­sure to the hor­mones com­pared to what they would be ex­posed to from their own ovaries.

Pre­vi­ous ev­i­dence has al­ready shown that ex­po­sure to hor­mones can af­fect the risk of breast cancer, the most com­mon type of cancer for Amer­i­can women.

Car­ried out by the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, the study re­viewed data from 12 dif­fer­ent stud­ies that mea­sured the amount of pro- Tak­ing the pill ex­poses women to higher lev­els of hor­mones than they would be ex­posed to nat­u­rally, sug­gests new re­search.

ges­terone and es­tro­gen over the men­strual cy­cle in women who don’t take the pill.

The to­tal lev­els of pro­ges­terone and es­tro­gen in these women were then com­pared over a 28-day pe­riod to the to­tal lev­els of the syn­thetic ver­sions of these hor­mones — pro­gestin and ethinyl estra­diol — in women who take one of seven com­monly pre­scribed pills.

The in­for­ma­tion for these syn­thetic hor­mones was taken from the pack­age in­serts for each dif­fer­ent pill. The au­thors found that of the seven pills, four more than quadru­ple

pro­gestin ex­po­sure com­pared to the pro­ges­terone ex­po­sure of women not on the pill, while another was associated with a 40 percent higher level of ethinyl estra­diol.

The study’s lead au­thor, hu­man evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist Bev­erly Strass­mann, stressed that birth con­trol has greatly im­proved women’s lives, but added that it is im­por­tant to cre­ate birth con­trol pills that don’t con­trib­ute to risk for breast cancer.

“Not enough has changed over the gen­er­a­tions of these drugs, and given how many peo­ple take hor­monal birth con­trol world­wide — mil­lions — the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try shouldn’t rest on its lau­rels,” said Strass­mann.

The find­ings also come af­ter Strass­mann’s pre­vi­ous re­search looked at men­stru­a­tion and re­pro­duc­tive bi­ol­ogy in the Do­gon peo­ple of Mali, West Africa.

Do­gon women rarely prac­tice birth con­trol, have an av­er­age of nine preg­nan­cies, and of­ten breast­feed chil­dren to age 2, in con­trast to Western women who of­ten have around two chil­dren and rarely breast­feed for longer than one year.

Be­cause preg­nancy and breast­feed­ing sup­press ovu­la­tion, Do­gon women have only about 100 men­strual pe­ri­ods dur­ing their life­times, com­pared to around 400 pe­ri­ods ex­pe­ri­enced on av­er­age by West­ern­ized women.

“The in­creased num­ber of menses is associated with in­creased hor­monal ex­po­sure and risk for breast cancer,” Strass­mann said.

“It is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to know whether hor­monal con­tra­cep­tion fur­ther ex­ac­er­bates this risk.”

The find­ings can be found pub­lished on­line in the jour­nal

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