Stories tagged birth control

Feb
23
2011

We've written about freaky frogs on the Buzz Blog before, but some recent news may shed new light on our abnormal amphibians. Until recently, researchers thought that atrazine, an agricultural pesticide, was the sole cause of sexual deformities in frogs. Unfortunately, it's not so simple.
UT OH: What lurks in me waters?
UT OH: What lurks in me waters?Courtesy Mike Ostrowski

An ecologist at Yale University, David Skelly, sought to test assumptions about atrazine by studying the frequencies of frog deformity in different land types--agricultural, suburban, urban, and forested. Skelly expected to find the highest rates of deformities in agricultural areas, which would be consistent with atrazine being the main cause. Curiously, he found the highest rates of deformity in urban and suburban areas--places we wouldn't expect to find much atrazine. So what's going on?

It turns out that what makes atrazine so dangerous is that it mimics estrogen and binds to estrogen receptors in frog cells. Because estrogen impacts sexual development and function, so too does atrazine. But atrazine isn't the only estrogen-mimicking compound out there--there's a whole class of chemicals that mimic estrogens, including those found in birth control pills and plastics (BPA). And these chemicals are found in droves in cities and surburban areas--they're flushed into the sewage, but aren't filtered out during water treatment.
Birth control pills: Estradiol, a synthetic estrogen, helps prevent pregnancy in women. But much of it is excreted in urine and eventually makes its way into various water sources.
Birth control pills: Estradiol, a synthetic estrogen, helps prevent pregnancy in women. But much of it is excreted in urine and eventually makes its way into various water sources.Courtesy Ceridwen

So why do we care? Besides the fact that frogs are just awesome little creatures and important parts of their food webs, they have something in common with humans--estrogen receptors. The same chemicals that impact frogs can impact us. So how do we humans keep our sexual development and functioning intact?
BPA-free: This Sigg bottle is made from enameled aluminum, and it's an example of a BPA-free bottle.
BPA-free: This Sigg bottle is made from enameled aluminum, and it's an example of a BPA-free bottle.Courtesy Bucklesman

Skelly had a great idea to filter this stuff out of the water at the treatment plant, so that it won't get into our bodies from drinking water. He also suggested that regulatory changes would help so that when new chemicals are developed, they're scrutinized for unintended side effects. And of course, we can make choices that reduce our exposure, such as by buying BPA-free plastics, or using stainless steel and glass containers. And of course, increased awareness is always a good idea.

Do you take extra steps to avoid things like BPA? What are they?

Apr
22
2009

Planned or unplanned?: A study shows that more than half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Why is that? This NPR report tries to find some answers.
Planned or unplanned?: A study shows that more than half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Why is that? This NPR report tries to find some answers.Courtesy Petercantfail
National Public Radio has a pretty interesting story on the statistical odds of getting pregnant in the U.S., and the birth-control reasoning that goes into – at least what I consider – the high rate of unplanned pregnancies.

More than half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. In an age with some many forms of birth control, lots of education opportunities to learn how to avoid pregnancy and a greater openness to talk about sexual activities than in the past, how can this happen?

Click here to get the full report, plus a thorough round-up of the variety of contraception methods that are currently available. While the cliché answer is that pregnancy avoidance is a shared responsibility – and I agree it should be – experts quoted in the story come to the conclusion that females who are sexually active and don’t want to become pregnant need to have a plan in place in advance to reduce their pregnancy chances.

Among the contributing factors to unplanned pregnancies are incorrect or inconsistent use of contraceptives, lack of access to health care and the one theory that really caught my attention: “Magical Thinking.”

Giving the example of one woman, magical thinking was explained as having sex at a time determine through a process of elimination on time when a woman figures she is not fertile. It’s sort of the reverse process of timing sexual activity at the optimum time of ovulation in order to get pregnant.

"You either say, 'I'm not planning to get pregnant, and therefore I'm going to be very careful,' or, 'I am planning to get pregnant,' " says Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "If you are the middle, in a fog and magically thinking, you're planning to get pregnant."

What do you think of all of this? Do you react like me to think that the number of unplanned pregnancies is especially high? How can we shift mind-sets of people to be more proactive practicing contraception if they don’t want to encounter a pregnancy? Is this making to big of a deal out of a natural process of life? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Mar
25
2009

I can has babiez?: Um, no. Sorry.
I can has babiez?: Um, no. Sorry.Courtesy roo72
Chinese officials have come up with another plan to combat their “desert rat plague,” one so crazy it just might work: gerbil abortion snacks.

As far as I can tell, gerbils (or “desert rats,” I guess) are native to China’s deserts and dry grasslands. However, the gerbils have gotten out of control, and are destroying too much of the grass, possibly accelerating desertification in a country that’s already one third desert.

According to Wikipedia, China already came up with a plan so crazy it just might work: in 2003, the government began releasing eagles into the desert to control the Gerbil population. Apparently, despite being so crazy it just might work, it didn’t work, and they have moved on to gerbil abortion pills.

The pills are small, resemble bran feed, and will be scattered around the gerbils’ burrows. They should prevent gerbils from becoming pregnant, and cause abortions in already-pregnant females. According to official press release, the pills should have “little effect on other animals.” Shucks, this plan is just so crazy it might work.

I don’t know too much about the situation, but scattering birth control pills across a fragile ecosystem seems… It seems like something that wouldn’t surprise me if it had plenty of unforeseen repercussions. Also, considering how the gerbils are a native species, it makes me wonder what happened that they have become a danger to their ecosystem. My guess is that there are too few predators. (Which, I suppose, the eagle infusion of 2003 was meant to address.) One wonders how the remaining gerbil predators will be affected by eating rodents stuffed with birth control pills…

Mar
06
2009

White-Tails in the CIty
White-Tails in the CItyCourtesy mickipicki
For wildlife biologists, most concerns about animal populations revolve around unnatural declines. Due to things like human development, habitat loss, climate change, pollutants and diseases that make animals sick, many wildlife populations are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Some species, however, are undergoing steep increases in population, causing headaches for humans. The recent crash of US Airways flight 1549 due to a bird strike is one extreme example.

Not surprisingly, most of the perceived problems resulting from animal population growth are coming from urban and suburban areas. Scientists are looking for ways to control the booming populations of deer, geese, pigeons and other species that have adapted to the changes humans have made to the environment. Since hunting or trapping is offensive to so many people, biologists are looking for new solutions and think that they may have found one in wildlife birth control.

At the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, biologists have developed a one-a-day contraceptive pill for geese and pigeons, and are working on a one-time injectable contraceptive for white-tailed deer. These wildlife birth control methods work on the same principal as human birth control, disrupting the animal's reproductive cycle or preventing fertilization from occurring.

The whole issue of wildlife population control brings up an interesting paradox. People love animals and nature, or at least, they love the idea of animals and nature as portrayed by the folks at Disney. People also love their yards and gardens, their pets and cars and airplanes, all of which provide ample opportunity for conflict with our furry and feathered friends.

It's worth remembering that many of the animals we consider pests today were once hunted to near extinction, and that it was the efforts of conservation biologists, along with hunters and fisherpeople, that helped to bring back many of these iconic species.

So, is birth control for Bambi really the answer? I'm not sure, though I do have lots of questions, including whether this kind of animal birth control will contribute to the already harmful effects that hormones found in human birth control are having on the environment.

Source: Popular Science

A European study has found that women taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are at a higher risk for blood clots and heart disease.