It’s been 58 years since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Enovid as the first oral contraceptive for women in 1960. All these years later and there’s still no contraceptive pill for men. But that day may not be far off.
Stephanie Page, M.D., Ph.D., and her team at the University of Washington School of Medicine have been testing the effectiveness of a medication called DMAU (dimethandrolone undecanoate) with funding from the National Institutes of Health.
The results of the study were presented on Sunday, March 18 at a meeting in Chicago of the Endocrine Society. While the results are preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed for medical journal publication, they are promising.
DMAU appears to effectively lower testosterone levels without the dangerous side affects that previous male contraceptive pill studies produced.
DMAU works on the same hormone receptors as testosterone and progestin, contains only one steroid and has been tested in once-a-day formulations of capsules containing either powder or castor oil to be taken with food.
Page’s team used 100 volunteers in a month-long trial, some getting different dosages and some getting sugar or placebo pills. “Individuals on all doses had remarkably low testosterone levels,” according to Page.
DMAU is said to lower testosterone production by interrupting a signal from the brain to the testicles. Due to this lost signal, sperm are unable to finish their maturation and thus the possibility of fertilization is lowered.
After recording lower testosterone levels, the next test will be to see if sperm production also decreased.
Dr. Page is preparing for a longer drug trial that would last from three to six months to assess the sperm production levels for users of DMAU before publishing her findings.
Noted side effects of the pill include mild weight gain (three to nine pounds on average) and a slight drop in HDL (good cholesterol) levels, without any other serious side effects. All subjects tested showed no signs of diminished liver or kidney function.
In 2016, another male contraceptive drug being tested using two different steroids was shown to clear the body too quickly, so a two pill-a-day solution was required. This proved to be an unacceptable product as its test subjects experienced a degree of liver damage.
Dr. Page says that surveys show 60-80 percent of men worldwide have shown interest in a male contraceptive pill, regardless of ethnicity, race and socioeconomics, as long as the process was reversible should they desire to have children at a later date.
She also notes that many men would prefer a daily pill over topical gels or long-acting injections, which are also in the development process.
The history of male contraception dates back 5,000 years ago with condoms made out of fish bladders, animal intestines and linen sheaths.
The first spermicides were introduced around A.D. 1500, and in the early 1800s vulcanized rubber started being used to make condoms. Since then, new strides in male contraception have all but stalled.
With all the methods available to women for contraception there haven’t been many choices for the conscientious man. The development of a safe and effective male birth control pill would be a landmark breakthrough and highly desirable on the marketplace.