Is the New Period Stopping Pill Safe Enough to Prevent Acne & Pregnancies?

No tampons, no super-sized maxi pads, no cramps… Any Pamprin-pressed woman could rant off endless positives of a period-stopping birth control pill. But is this new menstruation vanishing drug safe and can it still provide acne protection?

What is “period-stopping”

Well, first the period ending contraceptive called Lybrel does not actually stop the period. As the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals points out, birth control induced period stopping is really “menstrual suppression”. The body’s response to the seven day absence of birth control hormones after the typical 21-day birth control cycle triggers withdrawal bleeding, not a true period.

Regardless of what it’s called, this week’s Food and Drug Administration approval of the period skipping contraceptive spawned enough unanswered questions about safeness to fill a month of morning talk shows.

Lybrel

Period suppressing Lybrel comes in a 28 day-pill pack. The pills contain 90 micrograms of a progestin, levonorgestrel, and 20 micrograms of an estrogen, ethinyl estradiol. These active ingredients are similar to and work like other FDA approved contraceptives. Except, you skip the placebos.

Levonorgestrel stops the body’s monthly release of an egg from the ovary and thickens cervical mucus which makes it harder for sperm to fertilize an egg.

Lybrel and acne control

Besides preventing pregnancies, Lybrel can also elicit an acne preventing effect. The ethinyl estradiol component of the pill can reduce circulating levels of testosterone and ultimately limit facial oil secretion- one of several factors implicated in provoking acne.

But how will menstrual suppression using Lybrel effectively treat acne?

A study sponsored by Lybrel manufacturer Wyeth does support the acne preventing power of levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. Yet, ironically, possible side-effects of levonorgestrel include oily skin and acne. If you do experience acne while using an contraceptive containing levonorgestrel, inform your doctor, because commonly prescribed acne antibiotics like tetracycline can make levonorgestrel less effective.

Further study on menstrual suppression needed

While the words “stop your period” may sound melodious to millions of women, to University of New Hampshire professor of the sociology of gender and medical sociology

Jean Elson, they sound more like the prelude to a horror movie.

Elson feels, “Employing hormones to curtail normal menstruation strikes me as a very odd mix of feminism and medical authority – women are offered the opportunity to control their own bodies, but what are the real implications?”

Moreover, Elson finds that menstruation has transformed from a biological issue into a social matter and proposes that women, “… might not find their periods so inconvenient if schools and workplaces provided opportunities for people to rest.”

Like Elson, Margaret Freda a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, has doubts about menstrual suppression.

This past August, Freda told the American Journal of Nursing, “The jury is still out on total menstrual suppression,” until long-term studies of its safety are done.

A study published in Contraception tested the safeness of continuous daily usage of Lybrel on over 2,000 healthy women who had normal menstrual cycles. Among the participants, Lybrel side-effects were comparable to those reported for 21-days on and 7-days off oral contraceptive regimens.

However, Dr. Camelia Davtyan, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, did notice one problem with the study. Davtyan told HealthDay News that, “… the rate of uterine bleeding-related complications is quite high.”

Granted some woman have practiced menstrual suppression for years, it could take five to twenty years before medical studies ultimately concur on the overall safeness of this practice. In the meantime, women will once again need to rely on their intuition and personal health needs to decide what is the best way to prevent pimples and pregnancies.

Sources:

Archera, David F et al. Evaluation of a continuous regimen of levonorgestrel/ethinyl estradiol: phase 3 study results. Contraception; December 2006, vol 74, no 6, pp 439-445.

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Health Matters: Understanding Menstrual Suppression. October 2006.

HealthDay News. New Year-Round Contraceptive Pill Safe and Effective. December 13, 2006.

Potera, Carol & Maureen Shawn Kennedy. Choosing Not to Menstruate: A trend for adults and some adolescents. Is it safe? American Journal of Nursing; August 2006, vol 106, no 8, pp 19.

Thiboutot, Diane. A randomized, controlled trial of a low-dose contraceptive containing 20 μg of ethinyl estradiol and 100 μg of levonorgestrel for acne treatment. Fertility and Sterility; September 2001, vol 76, no 3, pp 461-468.

University of New Hampshire. Expert: New Birth Control Pill That Eliminates Periods Is A Bad Idea. Newswise; May 22, 2007.

Very Low Dose Birth Control Pills For Perimenopausal Women

Are you rejoicing in the signs that your body is getting ready to say ‘goodbye’ to your period and you are looking forward to throwing out your birth control? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – if you are still getting your period, you can still get pregnant. When you stop menstruating you are not officially ‘menopausal’ until 12-18 months later so you still need to continue with a method of birth control during your ‘perimenopausal’ period, which can last 3-5years. Your doctor can measure your FSH or follicle-stimulating-hormone via a blood test to tell if you are in menopause- don’t rely on over the counter test kits as birth control pills can mask these tests!

Using a Low Dose Birth Control Pill

Many doctors do not advise staying on hormonal methods such as the patch, injection and ring during perimenopause but often recommend that you change over to a low dose birth control pill such as Alesse or similar that contains only 20mcg of estrogen. Using a low dose birth control pill will, in most cases, keep your periods regular while still giving you pregnancy protection. Low dose birth control pills are taken in the same way as regular oral contraceptives and you will be unlucky if they don’t act to regulate your periods during perimenopause.
Low Dose Birth Control Pills also have health benefits.

Hot flashes and vaginal dryness are common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause but these can be reduced with very low dose birth control pills such as Alesse. Osteoporosis and bone loss can occur at this time also and low dose birth control pills may prevent this in some cases. A more well known benefit for all women regardless of age is the protection from cancer of the ovary and uterus through the use of low dose birth control pills.

Do NOT take very-low-dose birth control pills during perimenopause if you smoke OR if you have a history of blood clots, breast cancer or heart disease.

Good news about side effects- due to the very low dose of estrogen fewer women will experience side effects and lost libido but if you’re unlucky, side effects may include nausea, breast tenderness, higher blood pressure or headaches.

Barrier based methods of birth control (diaphragm, cap, sponge, female condom, male condom etc) will be fine to use BUT be aware that as your periods get lighter and less frequent during perimenopause, it will be more difficult for you to track your cycle accurately if you use ‘natural’ methods (fertility awareness) of birth control.

Stay tuned to Your Body during perimenopause

You may be in your late forties or fifties and have plenty of ‘sexual miles’ left in you yet, (hey, some claim this is the best part of your sex life!). However, perimenopause and menopause are times of great change in a woman’s body, not least of all in the hormone department.. Now is the time to stay tuned to what your body is telling you and to ‘support’ this transition in the best way you can to stay healthy and of course, not get pregnant. You won’t be surprised to read that eating a well balanced diet, taking a good vitamin supplement, reducing coffee and alcohol intake (just when you may fancy it most!) and keeping up some exercise is really good for you but you also need to know how to manage this last stage of your ‘contraception career’ successfully.

Finally Stopping Birth Control

Your doctor will help you to decide when to stop using low dose birth control and how to manage your menopause. Take time to become informed and to make up your own mind about whether or not to keep on using ANY form of hormones.(HRT) Your body needs support as it is going off hormonal birth control and this can be done smoothly and with minimal symptoms if you follow medical advice.

Low Dose Birth Control Pills

Reducing the side effects of birth control pills (cheers in the gallery!) led to the reduction of the amount of synthetic hormones, estrogen and progestin, that they contained and to the development of the ‘new generation’, low dose birth control pills. “Low dose’ won’t have much meaning for you if you don’t know what this term refers to so the basic information below may help.

So How Low can I go with the dose of hormone ingredients to still be effective at preventing pregnancy?

Good question, as not all birth control pills contain exactly the same amount of estrogen and progestin. I thought a useful reference for you would be a list of low dose and ultra low dose pills so that you can at least discuss the pros and cons with your doctor and see if you are a good candidate to move from say, a low dose 0.035mg estrogen pill down to an ultra low dose 0.020mg estrogen pill. You may find you experience fewer or reduced side effects. Generic brands in low dose birth control pills are also available.

Birth control pills with the very lowest amount of estrogen, that is 0.02mg of estrogen (usually ethinyl estradiol) are classed as ‘ultra low dose’ contraceptive pills. 0.020mg of estrogen is sufficient for contraception but the side effects of spotting and breakthrough bleeding are more common with these types of ultra low dose birth control pills than with low dose pills containing 0.030mg or 0.035mg of estrogen.

Here are some brand names of the “ultra low dose” birth control pills on the market , you may find a generic version on line now that you know what amount of estrogen to look for. The estrogen component is listed first and the progestin component second.

  • Alesse (Aviane,Lessina,Lutera,Sronyx) contains 0.02 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.1 mg levonorgestrel
  • Mircette contains 0.02 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg desogestrel

Pills containing 0.02mg- 0.035mg.of estrogen are classed as ‘low dose’ pills. Here are some brand names of “low dose” birth control pills :

  • LoOvral contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and and 0.3 mg nogestrel
  • Nordette contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg levognorgestrel
  • Ortho-Cept (Reclipsen, Solia) contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg desogestrel
  • Desogen contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg desogestrel
  • Levlen21 contains 0.03 mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg of levonorgestrel
  • Seasonale/Seasonique contain 0.03mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg of levonorgestrel

If you are a fan of triphasic pills, here are some low dose ones: Cyclessa

Phase 1: ethinyl estradiol 0.025 mg and desogestrel 0.1 mg

Phase 2: ethinyl estradiol 0.025 mg and desogestrel 0.125 mg

Phase 3: ethinyl estradiol 0.025 mg and desogestrel 0.15 mg

In a study of 5,654 women, over six menstrual cycles, some used the popular triphasic Ortho-Novum 7/7/7 and others used Cyclessa. It was found that women who used Cyclessa had significantly less breakthrough bleeding or spotting and experienced an average weight loss of 4lbs. versus an average weight gain of 2lbs. with those who took Ortho-Novum 7/7/7.

Ortho Tricyclen Lo : 3 types of pill in the pack

  • each white tablet contains 0.025 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.180 mg of norgestimate
  • each light blue tablet contains 0.025 mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.215 mg norgestimate
  • each dark blue tablet contains 0.025 mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.250 mg of norgestimate

(Ortho Tricyclen and Ortho-Cyclen, each with 0.035 mg of ethinyl estradiol, contain slightly higher amounts of estrogen in each type of pill than Ortho Tricyclen Lo)

YASMIN and YAZ are two more low dose birth control pills containing 0.03 mg and 0.02 mg respectively

of estrogen but they have a different type of progestin from the other pills called drospirenone (3.0 mg). On the down side, since Yasmin/Yaz can increase levels of potassium, it is not recommended for women with liver, adrenal or kidney problems but on the up side, Yasmin/Yaz appear to reduce water retention and therefore bloating and in some women gives a sense of well being. These pills also have a following among acne sufferers as they seem to improve this skin condition in a lot of cases.As with many other types of birth control pills, Yasmin may not be suitable for you if you also take other over-the-counter pain relievers, potassium sparing diuretics, potassium supplements or specific medications so you MUST check this out with a physician first.

Nursing Moms

You will have heard of the ‘mini’ pill (progestin only pill or POP) which is usually prescribed for women who are breastfeeding or who have an intolerance to estrogen. A ‘Mini pill’ can be started immediately after childbirth or abortion. There is no 7-day break or dummy pills as there are with the combined pill and it must be taken at the same time every day. Micronor contains 0.35 mg norethindrone and NO estrogen whatsoever. In other countries some brand names include: Microlut 28, Microval 28, Locilan 28 and Noriday.

Pills that contain high amounts of estrogen or progestin are used for emergency contraception and are known as ‘the morning after pill’ or Plan B. One common pill is Preven -each blue film-coated pill contains 0.25 mg levonorgestrel and 0.05 mg (that’s MILLIGRAMS not micrograms) of estrogen – usually you take 2 doses, 12 hours apart. Plan B is a ‘morning-after’ pill that contains only one hormone, progestin (Levonorgestrel) Tablets, 0.75 mg.

Low Dose Birth Control Pills Minimize Side Effects

Today’s birth control pills have been designed to contain much lower doses of synthetic hormones than in the 1960’s when ‘The PILL’ (with 50 micrograms of estrogen) first went onto the market. The reason for this is to reduce the side effects of hormonal contraceptives. “That’s still not helped me much”, you may be saying but here’s some information about low dose birth control pills that may help you to have a productive ( no pun intended!) discussion with your doctor if you’re not happy with your current birth control pill. Trial and error with different pill types is worth pursuing -bearing in mind that oral contraceptives are still not the perfect method of birth control for everyone. If you are on the ‘right birth control pill’ to suit your body, you should feel exactly the same way as you do normally, if not a little better.

Some women cannot tolerate the estrogen in combined low does pills so are prescribed progestin only pills. Estrogen seemed to be the main culprit where side effects were to blame so ‘low dose birth control pills’ were developed to minimise these. Pills containing 0.02mg- 0.035mg.of estrogen are classed as ‘low dose’ pills.

Here are some brand names of “low dose” birth control pills :

LoOvral contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and and 0.3 mg nogestrel

Nordette contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg levognorgestrel

Ortho-Cept (Reclipsen, Solia) contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg desogestrel

Desogen contains 0.03 mg ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg desogestrel

Levlen21 contains 0.03 mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg of levonorgestrel

Seasonale/Seasonique contain 0.03mg of ethinyl estradiol and 0.15 mg of levonorgestrel

YASMIN and YAZ are two more low dose birth control pills containing 0.03 mg and 0.02 mg respectively of estrogen but they have a different type of progestin from the other pills called drospirenone (3.0 mg).Yasmin may not be suitable for you if you also take other over-the-counter pain relievers, potassium sparing diuretics, potassium supplements or specific medications so you MUST check this out with a physician first.

Changing hormone levels within your body can result in side effects which vary for every individual. Keeping hormones at a consistent level in your body is the job of oral contraceptives so that you do not ovulate, your uterine lining thins and your cervical mucous thickens. These three events work together to prevent pregnancy.

Pills such as ALESSE and MIRCETTE are called ‘ultra low dose’ pills as they contain only 0.02mg of estrogen. These oral contraceptives are effective at preventing pregnancy but some women find that they have more spotting and breakthrough bleeding with them than with pills containing 0.03mg or 0.035mg. (considered the norm today) of estrogen. Spotting and breakthrough bleeding often disappear after a few months on a low dose birth control pill.

0.02mg of estrogen is sufficient for contraception but the side effects of spotting and breakthrough bleeding are more common with these types of ultra low dose birth control pills than with low dose birth control pills containing 0.030mg or 0.035mg of estrogen. Women who prefer ALESSE ((Aviane,Lessina,Lutera,Sronyx) and MIRCETTE say they reduce headaches, mood swings, breast tenderness and bloating. These two brands also may be better for ‘first timer pill users’ as a ‘low estrogen start’ to introducing synthetic hormones into their bodies.

You’ve probably heard of Progestin only pills or ‘mini pills’

These oral contraceptives are 90-95% effective at preventing pregnancy compared to the 99% efficacy rate of combination pills. However, they do not cause the common side effects of estrogen pills such as nausea, breast tenderness and cramps. The risk of developing deep vein thrombosis and cardiovascular disease is lower with progestin only pills. Nursing mothers can use progestin only pills a few weeks after giving birth as progestin does not affect milk supply like estrogen does.

‘Mini pills’ must be taken every day at the same time with no break. If you miss just one pill or take it more than three hours past the regular time, you need to use a backup method of birth control for 48 hours after taking the late pill. Disadvantage of the ‘mini pill’ – apart from irregular spotting and breakthrough bleeding, is that it can increase the risk of ovarian cysts and ectopic pregnancy.

Latest Update

Low-dose birth control pills may increase risk for heart attack or stroke, especially in women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or metabolic disorder. However, this risk disappears when you stop taking the low dose birth control pill (according to a Virginia Commonwealth University study published in the July issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism). PCOS is a condition that can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility, hormones, insulin production, heart, blood vessels and appearance. “Despite the doubling of risk associated with the pill, the absolute risk for a cardiovascular event in an individual woman taking the pill is low – Women using the pill are not going to automatically have a heart attack, states John Nestler, M.D., professor and chair of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism in the VCU School of Medicine. “However, our findings do raise the issue of whether oral contraceptives are optimal therapy for certain groups of women who are at baseline risk or who are taking the pill for a longer time, such as women with PCOS.”

Source: Medical News Today

So if you don’t have PCOS and you think a low dose birth control pill may suit you better, read more about ALESSE and Mircette before asking your doctor which brand would ‘suit’ your own medical history. Don’t forget to tell him/her which other medications you are also taking. The on line suppliers I have recommended are accredited and also offer the best prices.Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Elizabeth Silverman, obstetrician-gynecologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. Dr. Pamela Deak, obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of California San Diego Medical Center.

Barrier Methods of Birth Control

Barrier methods of birth control are designed to create a physical barrier between the sperm and egg cells such that fertilization is prevented from occurring. Some of the most common types of barrier contraception for both men and women include the diaphragm, condoms, contraceptive sponge and cervical cap. Spermicides are a form of chemical contraceptive designed to kill sperm and are normally used in combination with barrier contraception methods to increase their effectiveness. This is because the spermicide will kill most of the sperm that enters the vagina, while the barrier contraception thereafter blocks any surviving sperm from passing through the cervix and fertilizing an egg.

Barrier methods of birth control generally do not result in the development of side effects as hormonal contraceptives are known to do. In addition, it is possible to purchase certain types of barrier birth control such as condoms and sponges without requiring a prescription. The only disadvantage to using barrier birth control is the development of an allergic reaction to the latex in condoms. What's more, with the exception of male and female condoms designed to protect against sexually transmitted disease infections, most other forms of barrier birth control cannot effectively protect you from contracting STDs. It is therefore advisable to always use a condom whenever you have sexual intercourse so as to protect yourself from STDs such as HIV / AIDS. Natural membrane condoms made out of sheepskin are not recommended however, as these do not offer perfect protection against all STDs.

Unlike other types of birth control, barrier methods of birth control are typically only used when a couple has sexual intercourse. It is important to carefully read the instructions provided on the package of the barrier contraception before using it. This will help to ensure that you use it correctly and succeed in preventing pregnancy each time you have sexual intercourse. For instance, a male or female condom should be immediately removed after intercourse and disposed of. On the other hand, contraceptive sponges should be left inside the vagina for at least six hours after intercourse before being removed and disposed of. A diaphragm or cervical cap must be left inside for at least six hours and then washed and stored to be used again. In the event that you suspect your barrier birth control method has failed or was used incorrectly, you may employ emergency contraception such as douching so as to prevent pregnancy.