Monday, March 7, 2011

Advances in Male Birth Control Could Mean New Options of Male Contraception

If you asked a woman to design the perfect birth control, she would most likely ask for one without side effects, without the high cost and one that wouldn’t need to be taken daily. We are a long way away from a birth control that could meet all these standards. Could the newest birth control option be one that could be taken by the male partner?

For decades, the brunt of contraceptive responsibility has fallen on women. If men had more options for birth control the benefits would be measurable. Presently, the male contraception options are limited to a vasectomy and condoms. A male hormonal pill or injection would dramatically change and, potentially improve, the reproductive rights landscape. It has the potential to be as effective as female bill control pills, over 99% if taken correctly. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization also show that men from many corners of the globe would welcome the introduction of another male contraceptive option.

The development of male hormonal birth control methods have been slowed by the difference in male fertility (sperm production doesn’t stop the way egg production does for women, making it harder for scientists to figure out the best approach) and a lack of investment from pharmaceutical companies/funding for research. Still, scientists are hopeful that we are only a few years away from reversible and temporary male contraceptives as opposed to the permanency of a vasectomy.

At this time, the most effective method known to stop male sperm production is to administer an artificial hormone called progestin. Progestin is the same artificial hormone found in female oral contraceptives, which in men, suppresses normal sperm production. However, it is necessary to combine progestin with testosterone to limit undesirable side effects. Progestin can be administered by daily pills, gel, or long lasting injections or implants. Testosterone is currently available only in gel form as the development of oral testosterone has proved challenging, but clinical trials are currently underway at the University of Washington.

Another promising option for men comes in the active form of vitamin A. Vitamin A can be found in many of the foods we eat daily including carrots and broccoli, but needs to be converted in to an active form in order to take part in biological processes. One active form of vitamin A also affects sperm production. Scientists are still actively testing the inhibitors, recently finding that the process is reversible but working on how to use this knowledge to create a viable birth control option.

These promising advances could provide men a chance to take control of their reproductive choices and put the role of preventing pregnancy equally in the hands of both partners.