An international study suggests hormone doses could be significantly reduced in contraceptives and still work - but Family Planning says Aotearoa could benefit more from other moves in the birth control space.

New research from the University of the Philippines Diliman has found the hormone doses in some common contraceptives could be lowered by as much as 92% and still be effective in preventing pregnancy.

The results have raised hopes that people could one day take ‘the pill’ without suffering as many side effects.

Hormones in oral contraceptives work to avoid pregnancy in a few ways. 

They suppress ovaries from releasing an egg each month, thin the lining of the uterus to make it less likely for a fertilised egg to implant itself and thicken mucus to make it harder for sperm to enter the uterus.  

But, as many people who have taken the pill before already know, oral contraceptives can also come with side effects and increased risks of things like blood clots.

These side effects can put people off using this kind of birth control, according to Dr Beth Messenger, the National Medical Advisor at Family Planning.

“You have some people who are so much better when you put them on the pill, and all of those symptoms that they get in their natural cycle disappear. [But] then there are other people who are worse on the pill,” she says.

Messenger says those who do feel worse on the pill usually feel premenstrual all the time.

“[They’re] spotty, grumpy, and weight gain is also one of the things that people talk about on the pill.”

Expanding access to contraception

Messenger says while there has been a move towards lower dose contraceptive pills, people in New Zealand could probably benefit in other ways when it comes to birth control.

“Our bigger issue is that we don't actually have access to all the contraceptive technology that's out there [so] that would be a bigger step forward than having a lower [hormone] dose in the pill,” she says. 

Messenger says there are a number of novel pill combinations that New Zealand doesn’t have. 

People in Aotearoa also currently don’t have access to contraception like the combined contraceptive patch, which is available overseas.

The combined contraceptive patch releases a daily dose of hormones through the skin to prevent pregnancy. 

Messenger says problems also arise if new and better contraceptives aren’t funded.

“If they’re not funded, we really need to have a strong selling point of why somebody should pay much more to use that method versus one of the fully funded pills,” she says.

Some people just simply can’t pay for them, she says.

“It would be great if contraception was fully funded because it would reduce the cost barrier. That isn't the only barrier to accessing contraception [but] fully funding the whole lot would completely remove a significant barrier.”

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