Remembering to take the contraceptive pill every day can be a challenge but imagine if you could take one pill once a month, with the same result. Interested?
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a contraceptive pill that needs to be taken only once a month. The pill, which comes in the form of a gelatine capsule, remains in the stomach for weeks and slowly releases hormones to prevent pregnancy.
The news came in a report published in the Science Translational Medicine journal. This is the first instance that the method has been used to deliver a contraceptive over a long period of time.
Co-author of the study, Professor Robert Langer and his colleagues tested two forms of the monthly pill on a total of six female pigs. Rather than looking at the efficacy of the monthly pill in preventing pregnancy, they instead looked at the level of synthetic progestogen hormone released into the body. They then compared this hormone release to the one found in daily oral contraceptive pills.
They discovered that the monthly pills released the hormone slower and lasted over a longer period of time compared to the daily pill and after 29 days, the pigs who were given the monthly pill still had the hormone present in their blood.
While the drug was only tested on pigs, researchers say it could help to prevent unwanted pregnancies caused by human errors in daily pill use (forgetting to take it) and hope human trials can start in the next few years. They also believe the method could be used to treat other diseases.
"I hope there will be pills that people could swallow that could last for any length of time to treat different diseases, like mental health diseases and opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s, Aids,” Professor Langer told The Guardian.
Up to 50% of women using the oral daily contraceptive pill miss at least one dose over a three-month interval.
Oral contraceptive pills are the most popular medication to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Currently there are two types of oral contraceptive pill: the combined oestrogen-progesterone pill, and the progesterone-only pill (mini pill). If taken properly, they are both 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. There are other longer acting options, such as the contraceptive implant, IUD and bimonthly injections, but no monthly pill.
A reported 3.5 million UK women use the pill and research has suggested that up to 50% of women using the oral daily use contraceptive pill miss at least one dose over a three-month interval.
The monthly pill could be a great option for women who don’t want to take a daily oral pill and scientists at MIT say it could help prevent unwanted pregnancies caused by errors in daily pill use.
Dr Diana Mansour, vice president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), told Refinery29 that she welcomes more research into the monthly pill but there are still other options available for women, should they want a longer lasting contraceptive.
She said: "The concept of a monthly oral contraceptive pill is attractive and has the potential to broaden contraceptive choice. In theory, a monthly pill may be more effective than current oral contraceptives which women are required to take every day."
However, Dr Mansour added that as the method was tested on pigs rather than on humans, further research is needed to draw an accurate conclusion of its efficacy for women. So watch this space.
She concluded: "There is a wide range of contraceptive methods available to women. If daily pill taking is a problem then women can opt for the copper IUD, the intrauterine system (IUS) or implant. These are more effective than oral contraception with fewer than one woman in 100 becoming pregnant each year using these longer acting reversible contraceptives compared to around nine in 100 women taking the pill."