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CU Researchers Test Groundbreaking Birth Control Hormone

They hope it will reduce blood clots, a concern for obese women.

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Coloradans often tout themselves as having avoided the national obesity epidemic. And not for nothing—thanks to the Centennial State’s health-conscious culture and a wealth of mountains, trails, and bike-friendly streets, we’ve managed to keep off the extra pounds. Well, sort of.

Twenty to 24 percent of the state’s residents—the highest ever—have a body fat rate of at least 30 percent, leaving them at risk for serious health complications like diabetes, sleep apnea, and blood clots. That last one is particularly significant for women, who are at a higher risk for blood clots if they take a birth control pill that contains the hormone estrogen.

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But thanks to a grant of more than $650,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of Colorado School of Medicine hopes to eliminate this concern. CU Family Planning Division director Stephanie Teal and her 10-member team are conducting a clinical trial for a new hormone, ulipristal acetate, to be used in birth control pills—one women of all sizes can feel comfortable using.

“We’re realizing that, on the one hand, we want to address the obesity epidemic,” Teal says, “but on the other, we need to make sure that given the state of affairs, people are able to get medication that’s safe and effective for them, whether they’re heavy or not.”

European researchers accidentally discovered the benefits of this particular hormone during studies of uterine fibroids (benign tumors on the wall of a uterus) when many participants didn’t ovulate after they took medicine containing the molecule.

Now, CU and eight other sites around the country with expertise in contraceptive research are parlaying these findings into a new birth control medication that won’t cause clots or “unscheduled bleeding.” Teal’s team has been operating since April and will spend the next eight months or so testing the appropriate dosage for the medicine. So far, Teal says the results have been encouraging.

This new pill likely won’t hit the market for another five years, but when it does go public, women across the country will have Colorado researchers to thank for helping them stay healthy and worry-free.

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Check out this interactive map of the obesity percentage per state from 1985 to 2013. Colorado only hit the 20 percent mark four years ago.

Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.

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