Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another piece of science for the Repubevangelicals to ignore

In the heat of the Repubevangelical call to disregard adequate and well-controlled scientific studies science, those who fight to ban hormonal contraceptives by inaccurately labeling them as abortifacients also disregard that these medications are prescribed for reasons other than contraception and may have other positive health effects to shift the balance of the risk:benefit ratio squarely towards clinical benefit. Oral contraceptives are commonly used in the treatment of conditions such as: menorrhagia of unknown etiology; dysfunctional uterine bleeding in cases of thyroid and pituitary disorders; endometriosis; dysmenorrhea; ovarian cysts/PCOS and fibrocystic breasts. Additionally, studies have consistently shown that ovarian and endometrial cancer rates are up to 50% lower in women who use OCs compared to those who do not (studies in other cancers are mixed with some showing possible increased rates that may or may not be confounded by other factors depending on the type of cancer studied).

More recent reports indicate that there may be cause to believe that, in addition to the above uses/benefits, hormonal contraceptives may serve to inhibit the rate of progression of Multiple Sclerosis. Since approximately 70% of patients diagnosised with MS are female, there was some belief that estrogen may play a part in the disease (as women have higher estrogen levels than men) which led some physicians to avoid use of estrogen-containing medications in women with (and/or at risk for) the disease. Recent data showing that mice with a similar disorder were protected from destruction of the myelin sheath that protects nerves when treated with estrogen. Based on this, a group at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a retrospective analysis of a Bristish research database to determine if oral contraceptive use effected the development of MS in women.
He and his team used a British research database to identify 106 cases of the disease in women under the age of 50. They then examined prescription records to find out whether the women had received birth control in the three years before being diagnosed. They compared these patients with 1,001 women of similar age in the database who did not develop the neurological disorder. Overall, across all groups, around 5 women in 1,000 develop MS.

The women in this control group were much more likely to be taking oral contraceptives, the team reports in the journal Archives of Neurology1. Taking the drug reduced the risk of developing multiple sclerosis in the short term by 40%.

"The bottom line is that if a woman wants to take oral contraceptives, that decision shouldn't be influenced by fears of increased risk of multiple sclerosis," says Alonso. [NPG]
Lead researcher Alvaro Alonso believes the effect, if any, is a short-term inhibitory effect that may slow the progression to onset but not prevent development of the disease.

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