The Pill arrives: May 9, 1960
America’s Sexual Revolution gets a big boost when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the first oral contraceptive sold in America. It’s called Enovid-10, but the name that sticks is simply “The Pill.”
It’s the culmination of a lifelong campaign of Margaret Sanger, a nurse who had spent much of the first half of the 20th century crusading for better sex education and birth control options. Her own mother had died at the age of 50 after having 18 pregnancies in 22 years. A turning point had come seven years earlier when Sanger, then in her 70s, met a scientist named Gregory Pincus, who had achieved dubious fame in the 1930s when he had been able to get rabbits pregnant through invitro fertilization. But the press had deemed him a “Dr. Frankenstein” and despite his groundbreaking research, Pincus was denied tenure at Harvard.
Sanger was thrilled when Pincus agreed that it should be possible to create a pill that could keep women from ovulating. She then arranged for him to meet her friend Katharine McCormick, also a women’s rights advocate and an heir, through marriage, to the International Harvester fortune. McCormick immediately wrote Pincus a check for $40,000 to get him started on the research.
It was an uphill battle. Pincus joined forces with Dr. John Rock, a gynecologist at Harvard Medical School who was doing similar research. Their first trial, with 50 of Rock’s patients, had to be characterized as a study on fertility, due to the very restrictive birth control laws in Massachusetts—legally a person who wasn’t married couldn’t use birth control. And when, in 1956, they moved forward to do larger clinical trials that would be required for FDA approval, they had to go outside the continental U.S. to Puerto Rico. The research was a success—the medical director running the trials told Pincus and Rock that their pill “gives 100 percent protection against pregnancy.”
News about the “magic pill” spread and after the FDA approved use of Enovid in 1957 for “menstrual disorders,” women started asking their doctors about it. By 1959, an estimated half million American women were taking birth control pills “off label.”
Once The Pill was officially approved for birth control, sales took off. Within three years, more than 2 million women in the U.S. were using it; within five years, the number had risen to 6.5 million. Sales did drop for a bit in the 1970s after congressional hearings on the potential side effects of The Pill—weight gain, headaches, nausea and even blood clots. But fears about the risks faded when drug companies were permitted to drop the levels of progesterone and estrogen in the medication.
Legal restrictions also fell away. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a rarely-enforced, but still-on-the-books Connecticut law that banned any kind of birth control, even for married couples. And in 1972, the Court also declared unconstitutional a Massachusetts law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives to unmarried women.
By the 1980s, more than 11 million American women were taking The Pill, and the impact was clearly felt in the workforce. About 60 percent of the U.S. women of reproductive age had jobs.
Today, more than 100 million women around the world regularly use birth control medication. Prescriptions are still required in the U.S., but two-thirds of the women surveyed in a study released in May, 2013 said they feel birth control pills should be sold over the counter. And 30 percent of the women using either no birth control or a less effective method, such as condoms, said they would probably take The Pill if it was sold without a prescription.
More slices of history:
Hello, Cheerios: May 1, 1941
First hit workout video: April 24, 1982
Insulin goes mainstream: April 15, 1923
Polio vaccine celebrated: April 12, 1955
First artificial heart: April 4, 1969
First batch of Coca-Cola: March 29, 1886
Elephant man case presented: March 17, 1885
Flu pandemic begins: March 11, 1918
Aspirin is born: March 6, 1899
Discovery of DNA: Feb. 28, 1953
“Vampire treatment” fights baldness
A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology proposes a new and surprising way to treat bald spots. Italian and Israeli researchers found that they could stimulate stem cells in the scalp to grow new hair by injecting the scalp with the patient’s own plasma.
The procedure, known as the “vampire treatment’, starts with the harvesting of some of the patient’s blood, just like any other blood donation. Then the blood is processed through a machine that separates the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) from the red blood cells. The newly harvested PRP is then injected into bald spots on the patient’s head.
For the study, the team recruited 45 volunteers, all with alopecia areata (AA), which is a condition that causes hair loss in round patches on the scalp. The volunteers were separated into three groups: one received the “vampire treatment’, one received a similar treatment of triamcinolone acetonide (TrA), and the last group received a placebo treatment. Each group received their respective treatment three times and each treatment was one month apart. Then they were monitored for 12 months.
According to the study, the group that received the “vampire treatment’ saw a significant increase in hair growth compared to the placebo and TrA groups. The researchers explained that the PRP injection stimulates stem cells under the scalp and causes new hair to grow.
Why breast cancer spreads
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered a key way that breast cancer cells grow and spread throughout the body. It has to do with how breast cancer cells and breast cancer tissue react with one another.
Working with mouse models, the researchers found that a protein that sits on the surface of breast cancer cells, called DDR2, actually binds itself to collagen that is naturally present in breast tissue. Once the protein has bound itself to the collagen, it activates a pathway that encourages breast cancer tumors to spread and grow.
The new finding sheds some light on why women with dense breasts – that is, women who have a higher concentration of collagen in their breast tissue – seem to develop more aggressive cases of breast cancer.
Sexual enhancement supplements recalled
The supplement manufacturer, American Lifestyle, has recalled several of their products promoting sexual desire and performance because they were found to contain undeclared prescription drugs.
Supplements are not subject to the same rigorous safety testing that prescriptions drugs must undergo and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For this reason, no supplement can contain any amount of prescription drugs.
The recalled supplements, Vicerex and Black Ant, were found to have an unauthorized boost from the prescription drugs tadalaril and aildenafill. Better known as Viagra and Cialis.
American Lifestyle recalled the supplements voluntarily and no adverse events have been reported yet.
But the FDA warned consumers that other sexual enhancement supplements might also contain undeclared drugs, and to use caution whenever using supplements, especially ones that promise sexual enhancement, weight loss and body-building.