Thursday, April 11, 2013

The history of oral contaceptives

As promised, today I'm going to provide a little history behind the development of oral contraceptives, or the Pill. I don't feel it's necessary to re-write the facts out in detail, but I hope the links below will be useful and provide some insight into how the pill came to be.

In short, humans have tried to control fertility dating back to the Greeks. The mechanics of how pregnancy occurs, however, wasn't discovered until the late 1800s. The earliest commercially available forms of birth control include materials such as diaphragms and suppositories, which were introduced in the 1890s.

In the 1930s, scientists started to understand that high doses of steroids such as androgen, estrogen, and progesterone prevented ovulation. At first these hormones were synthesized from animals, but due to the high cost of production alternative methods were tested, and eventually were extracted from Mexican yams. Further investigation into the use of progesterone to prevent ovulation began in the 1950s, including trials of treatments in women beginning in 1951. By 1957 the FDA approved the use of a drug called Enovid for use in menstrual disorders (the use of birth control wasn't permitted by law for some time yet).

Reports of side effects of the pill began to circulate in 1962 (including blood clots and heart attacks). Throughout the remainder of the 1960s data was gathered on the safety of the pill, culminating in the mandatory addition of a patient safety sheet to birth control pill packages in 1970. By the 1980s new, lower hormone doses of birth control became available.

Journal of the History of Medicine:
This article provides history om the development of the pill.

This site provides a variety of information, from history, to how the pill works.

CBC Digital Archives:
This link provides a look at the history of the pill from a reproductive rights standpoint.

American Chemical Society:
This link provides history on isolation of progesterone for prevention of pregnancy.

The wikipedia article on the history of the pill, easy to read, but never the first line for information.


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