Progesterone is an important hormone for the female reproductive system. Progestins are synthetic progestogens. In the case of low progesterone in women, the drugs of this type are prescribed when they are preparing for conception and during pregnancy (at early stages). However, its use in medicine is not limited to this. Synthetic versions of this hormone can be used as a component of oral contraceptives.
What are the types of progesterone pills for birth control? Can you find effective over the counter progesterone pills on the market?
Prescription of progesterone-based birth control pills
In May 2010, the FDA approved estradiol valerate as well as estradiol dienogest (progestine-like substance). In the medical literature estradiol valerate is often referred to as E2V. Brands of the combined medicines based on these two hormonal substances are Natazia and Qlaira. The cost of pills of this type is approximately 80 dollars per 6-month supply.
Estradiol valeriate is a substance that is derived from natural raw materials, its action is biodentical to the action of the female sex hormone produced by the ovaries and adrenals. Estradiol valerate has a milder effect than the early contraceptive ethinylestradiol, hence the name “natural contraceptive”.
Researchers made a number of attempts to develop a contraceptive drug based on estradiol valerate, but despite the mildness of its effect, its use was associated with possible intermenstrual bleeding. To prevent this negative effect developers of Qlaira used dienogest, which regulates the growth of the endometrium, and elaborated a special dynamic dosing regimen.
How does estradiol valerate act on the female body? During absorption and first passage through the liver, this component of estrogen (a term combining several female hormones) undergoes hydrolysis and produces estradiol, the same estrogen that is produced by the female body. Thus, reliable contraception is provided: the most natural, harmonious with the biology of a woman, and at the same time as safe as possible. But that is not all. Natural estrogen acts “in partnership” with a progestin, another female hormone contained in an active substance called dienogest. In this case, the dosages of both substances are dynamic, that is, the quantity of the hormone during the administration course, calculated for 28 days, gradually decreases, and the amount of progestin increases. This balance helps not only to ensure a very high level of contraception, but also controls the menstrual cycle, making it regular and reducing excessive bleeding. Scientists carefully selected the minimum dosage of components for each day of the menstrual cycle to provide as few hormones as possible for reliable protection from pregnancy and excellent tolerability.
As for the dienogest, the scientists managed to develop this completely new gestagen, which is well tolerated and combines the benefits of natural progesterone with the metabolic stability of synthetic 19-norgestagens. It acts very selectively, that is, it practically has no effect on metabolism, and is very quickly excreted from the body. In addition, dienogest has the anti-androgenic effect which women like very much. This means that it is able to reduce the manifestations of the excessive influence of male sex hormones, which occurs in some women, and improve the skin condition.
According to G. Dikke, the pronounced endometrial effect of dienogest has made it an appropriate progestin for use in progesterone birth control pills containing estradiol valerate. The combo of dienogest and E2B in Qlaira in the four-phase dosing regimen with a step-down estrogen component and the simultaneous increase (“step up”) of the progestin component, is likely to make the endometrium stable.
Potential side effects of this drug include:
- headache, migraine and dizziness;
- the sensation of tension in the breasts;
- increased weight;
- acceleration of hormone-dependent neoplasm growth;
- premenstrual syndrome; spotting;
- uterine hemorrhage;
- temporary skin pigmentation in the form of small-sized high color spots.
To minimize the likelihood of side effects, the medication should be used only on prescription. Only a doctor can determine the optimal how to use regimen and the correct dosage of the medicine (low dose or high dose).
OTC natural progesterone pills – are they really effective?
If you see OTC pills on a purely natural basis, which are designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy, it is most likely a scam. Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for several centuries, but in the past people did not have effective hormonal drugs for preventing unwanted pregnancy.
As far as herbal supplements are concerned, some of them can have drug-like effect and therefore pose risk to female health. In addition, in spite of a great number of herb-based supplements being available in local pharmacies and groceries, most of them have not been approved by the American FDA.
Katie Spears representing Wellness Mama has research extensively the issue of family planning by natural methods. Instead of taking birth control pills she tries to avoid unprotected sexual intercourses on the days favorable for fertility. She is against using herbs for the purpose of birth control, substantiating this standpoint by the following reasons:
- Substances inducing abortion and causing miscarriage can be contained in some herbs.
- Some natural supps can have side effects similar to those produced by hormonal pills.
- As there are no absolutely effective herbs, they can pose threat to the fetus in case of pregnancy occurrence.
It should also be noted that some herbs are able to block prescription oral contraceptives, which can lead to an unplanned pregnancy. For example, in the UK there were several cases when women became pregnant, although they took pills, and that condition was a result of taking herbs, most often St. John’s Wort. It has already been reported that feverfew, ginger, and ginkgo biloba can reduce the efficiency of aspirin (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which is taken by millions of people to prevent heart attacks.
The bottom line on natural over the counter progesterone pills
Such hormonal contraceptives are suitable for many women, but you cannot start taking them without consulting a healthcare professional. If you have decided to give preference to this type of contraception, be sure to tell your doctor about your wishes, in particular about the fact that you would like to take a drug containing herbal female hormones. The specialist will help you choose the best option, taking into account your overall health, possible disposition to excess weight, the presence of chronic diseases. Fortunately, there are very few cases in which hormonal contraceptives are contraindicated. Especially if it is a medication approved by the FDA and tried by thousands of women.
With regard to purely natural products based on plant extracts (pure natural progesterone pills), they are not medicines and, accordingly, are not controlled by the FDA or similar public authorities in other countries. (The same goes for OTC steroids.) Therefore, you should not trust “herbal scammers” (websites) and buy herbal contraceptives. Most likely, they will not work and you will be under the threat of unwanted pregnancy. Always consult a doctor to choose a hormonal contraceptive that is suitable for you.