New Birth Control Controls Birth Defects

By Valentina Palladino

The thought of pregnancy as a college student is enough to give me morning sickness. Birth control pills are one way to prevent pregnancy, especially for women in college who are exposed to possible unexpected sexual encounters regularly. When I look for birth control, I want it to do exactly what it’s supposed to: stop those pesky swimmers from reaching my eggs. Now, however, a certain pharmaceutical company is attempting to provide more bang for your buck in  the pill.

Bayer Healthcare, the company that brought us the (in)famous pill Yaz, released a new, FDA-approved, oral contraceptive called Beyaz. The pill works like Yaz, preventing pregnancy, treating symptoms of PMDD, and treating moderate acne. Bayer, however, marks Beyaz as “beyond birth control” because the pill is also enhanced with folate. Folate, the naturally occurring form of folic acid, is a B-vitamin that can help reduce certain birth defects in the brain and spine of the baby. But pregnant women aren’t the only ones who can benefit from folic acids. Everyone needs them. They help the body make new cells for hair, skin, and nails, the parts of the body that need to create new cells every day. Furthermore, women of childbearing age, or who are looking to get pregnant, are encouraged to pay attention to their folic acid levels.

According to the Bayer Press Server, BayNews, Beyaz is pumped up with a stable form of the naturally occurring folate called Metafolin®. Your body needs to metabolize folic acids, to break them down so they can be absorbed. Metafolin® is folic acid that has already been broken down, so once it enters the body its protective benefits can be immediately absorbed. Some women have a hard time metabolizing folic acid, so Metafolin® can be beneficial when ingested through an oral contraceptive.

The company’s marketing strategy for Beyaz is the most interesting aspect of the new pill. Bayer pushes the fact that Beyaz is just like Yaz in preventing pregnancy, but now they can tell women that even if the pill fails and they become pregnant, the unplanned baby will be at less of a risk for birth defects. It’s like pregnancy’s less-popular bright side. Surprise! You got knocked up! Look on the bright side: at least your kid won’t be deformed if you don’t realize you’re pregnant for awhile and keep taking your birth control pills (that already failed). Comforting, isn’t it?

Just like beauty, comfort is in the eye (or, maybe in this case, the potentially-pregnant belly) of the beholder. BayNews states that Beyaz can both benefit women who stop taking birth control before wanting to become pregnant and those who do not take oral contraceptives correctly (i.e. skipping pills to miss periods, missing pills by accident, etc.) and must deal with the consequences. According to a report published by The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, “based on worldwide levels of pill use… over 2 million women become pregnant unintentionally each year because they do not take the pill effectively.”

Kelly Baug, a junior policy studies and English dual major at Syracuse University, thinks Beyaz is a good idea, but most college women may not be aware of the long-term effects that sex has on their lives now. “I don’t think girls think that far ahead, but if Beyaz was presented to a girl just starting birth control now, I think she would be more likely to choose it.”

It’s important to remember that Beyaz is not the only source of folic acid available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that women can get their daily 400 mcg of folic acid from multivitamins and cereals that have the 100 percent daily value of folic acid per serving, such as Multi-Grain Cheerios, Kashi Heart to Heart, and Quaker Oats Cinnamon Life.

At the end of the day, contraceptives are meant to do exactly what their name implies – control conception. Having that extra boost of vitamins as an added bonus to your birth control is a nice plus. But is it worth it? There is no evidence that the addition of Metafolin® to Beyaz inhibits its ability to protect against unwanted pregnancy, but it also doesn’t help the pill prevent pregnancy more effectively. Beyaz is more like plan A + plan B for the unintentional-hypothetical mother. You know, just in case Mr. 1%-Failure knocks at your uterus.

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