The Advent of the Birth Control Pill

By Anika Logan

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The concept of hormonal oral contraceptives had its roots back in the 1920's. But it wasn't until the 1950's that any type of hormonal birth control method became available for women to use. Research would continue for another ten years in order to perfect a synthetic hormone that would prevent pregnancy. It was in 1960 that the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) approved Enovid-10, the very first oral contraceptive.

The Enovid-10 pill was manufactured by a company by the name of G.D. Searle and Company and contained two hormones, estrogen and progestin. To break it down even further, this first oral contraceptive was made up of 150 micrograms of mestranol (estrogenic hormone) and 9.85 milligrams of norethynodrel (progestational hormone). In comparison to the low dosage pills of today, the very first birth control pill contained four times the estrogen and ten times the progestin.

"The pill" as users soon dubbed it, ushered in a whole new era for women as it took the worry and the work out of contraception. Many doctors believed that when taken regularly, the pill was 99.9% effective. Some went a step further and believed it was almost foolproof (100% effective) if taken properly.

Problems Related to the Pill

However this safe, convenient and reliable form of birth control was not without its problems. Side effects such as nausea, cramps, headaches, breast tenderness, breakthrough bleeding and weight gain were noted by some pill users. Even after being assured that the side effects would go away in due time, and were not symptomatic of worse problems, many women stopped taking it all together, opting to return to less reliable methods of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Press reports in the sixties led to what was called "pill scares" and these had many women terrified about what taking the pill over extended periods of time might do to their bodies. To make matters worse, research undertaken in the late 1960's on the pill put forth to the already frightened public the theory that the amount of estrogen used in the first pill, the Enovid-10, might have a great deal to do with increases in the risk of developing blood clots, heart disease and stroke. But none of these claims were ever proven.

Today's Pill

The pill has been perfected many times over since the 1950's and 1960's and except in rare cases, is safe for most healthy women of child bearing age to take, although higher risks are associated with women over the age of thirty-five who smoke, women who have high blood pressure or women with a history of blood clots. It has even been proven that there are health advantages associated with the pill, such as a decrease in the rate of endometrial and epithelial ovarian cancer.

Today's low dosage pills contain less of the hormones, estrogen and progestin than ever before. There is less than 50 ug of estrogen in today's pills than there was in the first pill. The dosage of the progestin hormone in today's pills is in the area of 0.5- 1.0 mg.

Even with the wide variety of contraceptive methods available today, the birth control pill continues to one of the most popular methods of preventing pregnancy. It is estimated that there is more than 100 million users of oral contraceptives worldwide.

Anika Logan is a Canadian based writer whose work has been published extensively over the Internet and in print. Her website can be seen at www.gardenandhearth.com/apartmentliving.htm.

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