Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 19, 2021

How Research & Innovation Are Modernizing Birth Control

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about birth control? You’re likely thinking about oral contraceptive pills and condoms. While these are the most widely used birth control options, they may not always be useful.

To begin with, both male and female condoms aren’t 100% effective in preventing pregnancies. While birth control pills offer better results, they can cause mood swings and other side effects in women. Also, taking the pill daily can be an inconvenience for some people.

Then there’s the cost associated with these methods that makes birth control less accessible to women in low and middle-income countries. This, in turn, results in a striking number of maternal deaths and stillbirths.

The good news is that medical science has significantly evolved in the 21st century. This has contributed to the development of a wide array of new-age birth control options. From slimmer IUDs and emergency contraceptives to male birth control pills and fertility-tracking apps - you’ll find a wealth of information on contraception today.

In this blog, we’ll explore a few innovations that are unleashing a new era of birth control. Let’s get started.

Reinventing Female Birth Control Pills

Traditional birth control pills are notorious for causing persistent side effects due to hormonal changes. These include breast tenderness, bloating, nausea, mood swings, and spotting. Also, missing daily doses of the pill can render it useless. It isn’t surprising that many women become pregnant despite being on birth control.

Fortunately, research is underway to create a once-a-month oral contraceptive pill that releases an adequate amount of levonorgestrel in a woman’s body throughout a menstrual cycle. A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has already developed a monthly pill and tested it on pigs.

The star-shaped pill, which is enclosed in a gelatinous capsule, is supposed to contain three weeks’ worth of hormonal medication. It’ll rest in a woman’s stomach and gradually release the hormone to prevent pregnancy.

On the other side of the spectrum, injectable contraceptives have also come a long way. Some options, such as Pfizer’s Sayana Press, are even packaged inside single-use syringes to make them more portable and convenient.

This could go a long way to increase the accessibility of birth control in remote areas. Taking this a step further, you’ll also find self-injectable contraceptives. Instead of going to the doctor every time, women can administer the required dose at home. The best part is that injectable contraceptives are designed to be effective for nearly three months.

The Rise of Male Birth Control

Do you believe that the onus of birth control shouldn’t lie only on women? So do the folks at the Parsemus Foundation. That’s why they have developed Vasalgel, a non-hormonal high molecular weight polymer gel, that blocks the flow of sperm during ejaculation.

The gel is injected into the vas deferens where it blocks the sperm by creating a plug. It’s safe, affordable, and remains effective for more than 10 years. Also, unlike vasectomy, the effects of Vasalgel can be easily reversed by dissolving the polymer. The product is still under trial and may not be commercially available anytime soon.

Other innovative forms of male contraception include male birth control pills. These oral contraceptives are built to reduce sperm count and mobility without affecting testosterone levels in men.

Fertility-Tracking Apps Becoming Commonplace

Even though fertility-tracking apps aren’t a method of birth control per se, they’re increasingly being used by women to monitor their menstrual cycles. These apps work by analyzing inputs, such as average period duration, length of menstrual cycle, etc., to notify users when they’re most likely to ovulate.

Some apps, such as the FDA-approved Natural Cycles, even monitor a user’s basal body temperature for more improved accuracy. It takes the guesswork out of the process and eliminates the need for women to manually track their cycles. While plenty of such apps are available on leading app stores, very few of them utilize evidence-based fertility-awareness algorithms.

The Road Ahead

Apart from the aforementioned options, many other advanced birth control methods are also being developed. From remote-controlled drug administering chips to fail-proof implants - the future of birth control techniques looks brighter than ever.

Even conventional methods, such as condoms, diaphragms, and IUDs, are getting a modern spin. For instance, you’ll find male condoms made using locally sourced, biodegradable raw materials. Likewise, slimmer intrauterine devices (IUDs) are being designed that can be placed inside women who haven’t given birth yet.

Have you come across any other fascinating innovations in the field of birth control? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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