Hormone-Based Birth Control (for Men!)

It Isn't Fair

Sometimes the unevenness of nature can be really aggravating to a woman. Take birth control, for instance: why is it that women have to mess with their hormones on a daily basis like, for instance, taking the Pill, in order to prevent pregnancy, while men use a condom only as needed; something that doesn't interfere with their inner workings? Somehow it doesn't seem fair.

Oh, Joy!

Now women have a chance to see the world stage for birth control become a bit more balanced as researchers release the details of a study on the first, hormone-based birth control method for men (oh, Joy!).

This newest form of male contraceptive looks as though it will be effective, safe, and reversible according to the results of this study, released in May of 2008. A combination of the hormones progestin and testosterone were found to block sperm production in men with more immediacy and efficiency than with testosterone alone. “It is possible to suppress sperm output to concentrations that are comparable with reliable contraception in most, but not all men,” says Associate Professor Peter Y. Liu of the University of Sydney, Australia, the lead author of the study. “The rate of suppression is comparable to that achieved after a vasectomy.”

The production of sperm in men can be suppressed by administering testosterone and other male hormones as contraceptives, since these hormones cause a man's reproductive system to stall. In the current study, researchers looked at data from the years 1990-2006 on all male hormonal studies on contraception of at least three months duration.

There were 30 studies with a total of 1756 men from the ages of 18-51 who were treated with various combinations of testosterone both with and without the added hormone progestin. Testosterone is the main male sex hormone while progestin is a type of synthetic progesterone that is used along with estrogen in female contraceptive preparations. Progestin is not a hormone that tends to be produced by men.

In analyzing the data, the researchers found that the combination of testosterone and progestin was more powerful in blocking the production of sperm than was testosterone alone. Professor Liu commented that both the rate and extent of sperm production was suppressed with this combination. Liu believes that this combination may serve to make long-term hormonal contraceptive treatment safer in that a combination reduces the amount of testosterone needed to maintain contraception.

An interesting surprise was found in that Caucasian men were able to suppress their sperm output at faster rates, though not in as complete a manner as that of the non-Caucasians. Younger men with lower, natural amounts of testosterone suppressed sperm production faster, though the differences were not significant.

The major glitch in these findings: it's difficult to know in advance just which men will respond best to this hormone combination with sperm suppression at high enough levels to serve as reliable contraception. Liu feels that considerable progress has been made in finding the most effective combination of the two hormones, though the current study doesn't take into account the fact that there are many types of progestin hormones. More research will be needed to find the best form and combination for effective treatment.

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