In a new study, 45% of women who received the depot medroxyprogesterone acetate shot, or Depo-Provera, lost 5% or more of the bone density in their hips or lower spine. According to Roni Caryn Rabin of the New York Times, scientists say the loss is a "significant concern" because it's difficult to build bone back up and bone loss may lead to fractures later on. The greatest risk is to women who smoked or do not get enough calcium in their diet, and lead study author Dr. Abbey B. Berenson says, "We can now tell our patients, ‘Don't smoke, and take your calcium every day' - those are modifiable risk factors. The flip side is that if I have a patient who smokes, I'm going to be more concerned about giving her Depo-Provera."
But one alternative, Yaz, is looking less attractive all the time. Up to 25,000 lawsuits against Bayer, the drug's maker, will come before judge David Herndon in East St. Louis, Ill. Herndon will hear pretrial arguments and may try several of the lawsuits as an example to the rest of the country — though the suits were filed all over, they've been consolidated into Herndon's jurisdiction for pretrial proceedings in order to prevent inconsistencies. According to UPI.com, plaintiffs allege that Yaz caused a list of side effects worthy of the worst drug commercial in the world: "strokes, heart attacks, pulmonary embolism, thrombosis, cardiac arrhythmia, gallbladder disease, kidney failure and sudden death." Attorney-at-law.com writes that the culprit is dropspirenone, a type of progestin not used in other birth control pills. Dropspirenone may raise blood potassium levels, causing something called hyperkalemia, which may in turn cause a variety of disturbing problems.
Not everyone experiences bone loss with Depo, and plenty of women have used Yaz without a problem. So reacting to this news isn't as simple as going off the drugs — especially since most forms of hormonal birth control have some side effects. For many women, control over their reproductive lives is worth a certain measure of risk. Still, the news of bone loss, gallstones, and sudden death makes us all the more anxious for a male birth control pill, so the other half of the human race can share the burden a bit.