World’s first approved birth control app debuts: Will it push out the Pill?

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Women looking for birth control other than pills, implants or
sponges can turn to their cell phones for help, with many apps
offering to predict when they can and can’t get pregnant.

One app in particular is getting lots of attention.

Natural Cycles, which was developed by a pair of married
physicists, bills itself as the world’s only app to be
certified for the use of contraception. It was approved as a
medical device by a German-based certification organization,
classifying it as a contraceptive in the European Union, the
company announced in February.

World’s first approved birth control app debuts: Will it
push out the Pill?

Play Video –
3:38

World’s first approved birth control app debuts: Will it
push out the Pill?

Play Video –
3:38

More than 200,000 women in 161 countries are said to use the
app.

The company, headquartered in Sweden, was founded by Elina
Berglund and her husband Raoul Scherwitzl, who both have PhDs
in physics and “applied their mathematical techniques” to come
up with a non-hormonal, non-invasive method of birth control, the company says.

Is it a ‘red’ or ‘green’ day?

Women have to take their temperature with a basal thermometer
every morning and enter it into the app, which considers that
and other factors, such as cycle irregularities and “sperm
survival.”

The algorithm then tells a woman if it’s a “red day,” when
she’s likely to get pregnant and needs to use protection or
abstain from sex; or a “green day,” when she’s not fertile and
can have unprotected sex, if she wishes.

Natural Cycles conducted a study of more than 4,000 women using
their app and found with typical use, the app is 93 percent
effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy. Oral
contraceptives are 91 percent effective when measuring typical
use, according to the FDA.

But experts want more large-scale and independent research and
say women should proceed with caution.

New over-the-counter birth control plans stir controversy

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New over-the-counter birth control plans stir controversy

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There are about a thousand fertility and birth control apps
available, but they’re not being regulated by the FDA or any
other U.S. government entity at this time, said Victoria
Jennings, director and principal investigator of the Institute
for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.

“It’s a little bit of a Wild West,” Jennings told TODAY. Women
impressed by the news that Natural Cycles has been certified
for the use of contraception in the E.U. should be interested
and somewhat skeptical, she added.

“The entity in the European Union that has certified it is not
to be confused with something like our FDA,” Jennings said.

She and her team are currently studying another family planning app,
Dynamic Optimal Timing or DOT, and they’ve found women like
these digital helpers for lots of reasons, including tracking
their periods and avoiding hormonal methods for birth control.

If you are considering using an app, here’s what you should
know:

Decide what kind of app you want

Women like the idea of being able to know their bodies and if
you are interested in just tracking your cycles, lots of apps
will do, Jennings said. The problem comes if you want to rely
on them to prevent a pregnancy.

“A birth control method has to be studied very carefully in a
very specific type of trial,” she said. “Zero of them have been
submitted to that type of scrutiny, including Natural Cycles.
That’s a concern.”

Do your homework

Just about anybody can build a fertility app and put it out at
the app store without much regulation, Jennings said.

Read the fine print. Don’t just choose something that comes up
on the first page of the search or has a nice ad. Look to see
what kind of scientific literature there is to back up a
company’s claims “because what you’ll see is a lot of
advertisements that make claims that are simply not true,”
Jennings said.

“I’m precariously balanced here because I don’t want to say
‘Don’t use an app, they’ve not been proven, they aren’t very
good’ because that’s not true. But I want to say be very
careful about the app you choose,” she added.

Consider what information you have to put in

Are you willing to take your temperature every morning before
you get out of bed, as required by Natural Cycles? Or would you
prefer to only put in your period start dates, the protocol
used by DOT?

Also consider any costs associated with the app.

Remember the limitations

“It does not protect against STDs,” said NBC News medical
contributor Dr. Natalie Azar. “That’s something that’s very
important to re-emphasize to women who would choose this
method.”

Then, there’s the trust issue. When TODAY asked viewers whether
they’d trust an app over traditional contraceptives, 93 percent
of respondents said no.

Follow A. Pawlowski on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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