1. Health
Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

Happy Birthday - The Pill Celebrates 50 Years

By May 7, 2010

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Happy 50th birthday to the birth control pill! The pill has been named the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, and 50 years after gaining FDA-approval, the pill is still one of the most popular birth control methods around the world and here in the US.

Interestingly, there is no definite date as to when to celebrate the pill's birthday. Ten years ago, it was celebrated on June 23, the date of the FDA-approval to first market the pill. This year, the FDA has decided to celebrate the pill's birthday on May 9, which coincides with the time, 50 years ago, when the agency announced its intention to approve the pill (is it a coincidence that this is also Mother's Day?) Interestingly, when the pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, more than half a million women were already taking it!

Briefly - the pill started a revolution nobody ever intended. After all, you don't hear of the drink or the magazine,  yet when I say the pill, we all know what I am talking about. The pill was the first medicine designed to be used everyday by people who were not even sick. Paradoxically, the pill's main inventor was a conservative Catholic (who was actually seeking a treatment for infertility, but instead found a guarantee of it!). The pill was blamed for letting the sexual revolution loose (even though throughout the 1960s, women usually had to be married to obtain the pill). We can thank Margaret Sanger as she was the driving force behind getting the pill created and available.

In March of this year, one of the world's largest studies of the pill was published. It followed 46,000 women for almost 40 years and found that women who take the pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease. However, many women still question whether the side effects of the pill outweigh its benefits.

One last contribution of the pill (one that may have gone unnoticed) - it led to to overwhelming changes in the FDA (a revolution in what Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the current food and drug commissioner, calls regulatory science). In fact, many of the steps that underlie current drug approvals (including extensive clinical trials, routine referrals to panels of outside experts, continuing assessments of a medicine's safety and direct communications between the patients and the FDA) are all due to the pill. These steps came about when the FDA needed to decide about issues surrounding the pill's safety. Thanks to the pill, the FDA routinely requires that many medicines carry major and sometimes intricate warnings that patients are expected to read and understand. A landmark in the field of drug regulation, the birth control pill has a lot of celebrating to do this year!

Photo Courtesy of Stockbyte/Getty Images

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