Yasmin: Is it safe or not?

In light of a suit against the low-estrogen contraceptive, we look at the history of mixed messages about the pill

Topics: Birth Control, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

When it was first FDA approved in the early 1960s, the birth control pill, like most popularly ingested substances of the era, carried a relatively high risk of stopping your heart. It was called Enovid and the problem was its extreme concentration of estrogen. Concerned, researchers and the pharmaceutical companies who pay them set out to formulate a new, low-estrogen contraceptive chemical, and in 2000, Yasmin was born.

Since then, the Yasmin family’s medical track record has been a frenzied, mercurial story of bliss and disaster, peppered with alarmist side effects and miraculous fountain-of-youth-iness. Some years, banner headlines announce the pill’s cancer-thwarting powers. Other years, we ‘re told we’re throwing tiny, pink grenades into our arteries. In light of this month’s headline-making lawsuit against Yasmin by a 27-year-old stroke victim, we encourage you to step back from the hysteria of the moment to see a chronology of whiplash-inducing mixed messages that haunt many of us at the medicine cabinet every night.

2000 

Scientists at Berlex Laboratories formulate a new synthetic progestin called drospirenone. It’s hailed as a “third generation” oral contraceptive that “has the potential to reduce body weight, blood pressure” and “has positive effects on weight and lipid levels,” all while relieving “menstrually related symptoms.” All the Berlex scientists do super-exploding fist-bumps and shout, “Huzzah!” several times in unison. [Ed. note: Unverified]

2001

The FDA approves Yasmin, the world’s first drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol combination birth control pill. The Journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine publishes a study saying that the Yasmin cocktail does everything the Berlex study purported, and it gives women lighter, shorter and less painful periods. Ladies rejoice.

2002



Researchers from Department of Dermatology at the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands find that Yasmin treats and prevents serious acne. Dermatologists from the University of Toronto publish a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology also demonstrating Yasmin’s acne-fighting tendency.

A team of endocrinologists from the Klinikum Benjamin Franklin, Freie Universität Berlin verify Yasmin’s weight-loss connection. It is now sound medical consensus that Yasmin will make you super pretty. 

2003

Stop prancing. After five young and otherwise healthy Dutch women die of pulmonary embolisms after taking Yasmin for a short amount of time, a team of researchers in the Netherlands led by Dr. Kees van Grootheest, who is not a sectional sofa, published a paper in the British Journal of Medicine titled “Thromboembolism associated with the new contraceptive Yasmin.” Again, this paper looked at five (not five thousand) women. Later that year, scientists from Spain published a similarly-themed paper called “Transient ischaemic attack [a terrifying stroke] associated with the new contraceptive Yasmin.”

“Sudden death” is added to Yasmin’s side effects, and everyone starts PMS-ing over it.

2004

Good news! A Bayer-sponsored Europe-wide study found that there was no statistically significant risk of stroke or cardiovascularly-related death among women who took drospirenone-containing birth control pills as compared to women who took previous generations of progestin-containing birth control pills. On the one hand, Bayer is looking to acquire Yasmin from Berlex’s parent company (which they finally do in 2006). On the other hand, well, sure, maybe that raises some conflict-of-interest questions — but still, it’s science, with statistics and everything.

2005

Good news that isn’t tainted by corporate interests! A team of scientists from from the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh (and funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute) find that all androgenic and nonandrogenic progestin-containing birth control pills yield “a similar and significant reduction in ovarian cancer risk.”

2006 

Yaz, which is a variant of Yasmin containing an even lower dose of the estrogen component, receives FDA approval. Bayer acquires Berlex, and with it, the whole Yasmin family. The drospirenone line will go on to be the nation’s top-selling oral contraception, contributing significantly to Bayer’s $1.58 billion in sales the following fiscal year. Also prompting an uptick in Yaz prescriptions is news that women with renal problems, who had been previously cautioned against progestin drugs, would be safe taking Yasmin because “drospirenone has no significant effect on serum potassium levels in patients with mild to moderate renal insufficiency.”

2007 

Infuriatingly blasé scientists from the Hormones and Cancer Research Unit of the Institut de Puriculture et de Prinatalogie in Paris publish an article in the journal Gynecological Endocrinology explaining that some studies indicate that progestin-based birth control caused an increase in breast cancer incidence, while others show no difference, and still others produce a significant decrease. They recommend, but don’t conduct, “further clinical trials.”

2008

The FDA — and Broadsheet! — call out Yaz’s advertisers for misleading the public by implying that Yaz combats premenstrual syndrome. Unimportantly to Yaz, PMS is different, and far less severe than premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Relatedly, the Yasmin franchise netted about $1.8 billion in 2008.

In legitimate news, that year, researchers from Oxford University and the American Cancer Society published The Greatest Study of Our Time, which took together four decades-worth of studies on oral contraception and found, simply, beautifully, “that the longer a woman took birth control pills, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer.”

2009

A spectrum of bad news. Dutch scientists demonstrate a positive, staggering correlation between the amount of second-generation estrogen compounds in a birth control pill and the likelihood of killer blood clots, or venous thrombosis. Terrifyingly, the use of oral contraceptives containing levonorgestrel (the main component of most morning-after pills including Plan B), was associated with a 6.3 fold increase in strokes versus drospirenone users. So, while Yasmin and Yaz were the usual suspects with regards to embolisms, it turns out, the alternatives offer up a greater risk of clotting. Before you flush your pills down the nearest toilet – which, as Nicholas Kristof is quick to remind us, mutates and kills frogs – note that the sample sizes in testing both classes of oral contraception are very, very small.

2010

Before you wallow in abject terror and doubt at this evening’s dosing time, consider the alternative. According to an Amnesty International report released this March, the incidence deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the US have doubled since 1990, and roughly one-third of pregnant women in the U.S. suffer from serious complications. Now, here is a video of kittens.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>