Contraceptive Earns Slimming Reputation

Nov. 20, 2002 -- Weight gain may be the biggest deterrent for women wanting to join the more than 18 million American women who take the Pill. But according to some believers, one oral contraceptive may actually make you thinner.

Yasmin, manufactured by Berlex Labs, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May of 2001. According to Berlex spokesperson Kim Schillace, sales have increased steadily since it first hit the market. And some health-care providers say they've seen a number of requests for it specifically.

"The talk about Yasmin is it's the pill that helps to reduce weight, and it's the pill that helps reduce PMS," says Leah McKinnon-Howe, a nurse practitioner at Northeastern University in Boston. "So some people do come in and ask for Yasmin by name."

Adds Northeastern University student Gina Patterson: "I've seen Yasmin in different magazines like Cosmo[politan] and Marie Claire. It's supposed to be a weight-loss pill, but also a birth control pill at the same time."

But health-care providers say not so fast. Despite the buzz, there is little solid evidence to back it up, says Dr. Nancy Snyderman on Good Morning America.

Behind the Buzz

What sets Yasmin apart from other oral contraceptives is that it uses a different form of the hormone progestin, called drospironone. This hormone, according to the Yasmin Web site, may "work with your body chemistry by affecting the excess sodium and water in your body."

In other words, it may act as a diuretic and counteract bloating, a side-effect experienced by many women who take birth control pills. The only weight women can expect to lose by taking Yasmin is water.

"On a standard birth control pill, I think the average woman might expect to gain a pound or two. On Yasmin, I think the average woman might expect to lose a pound or two," says Dr. Bob Barbieri, chief of OBGYN at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "I think it would be very unusual for a woman to lose 20 pounds when they're on Yasmin."

The interest in this contraceptive seems to have been sparked in large part by a study conducted by the drug's manufacturers. The study, published in Contraception magazine, followed 300 women who lost about two pounds after six months of taking the pill.

The effects, however, were not long lasting. After a about a year, the weight came back.

Despite this evidence and the widespread perceptions about its slimming effects, Berlex denies that the pill is being marketed as a way for women to lose weight.

Dr. Marie Foegh, vice president of clinical development at Berlex says, "Yasmin is an oral contraceptive and should not be viewed as a weight loss pill. We would not want any woman to think of it as that. There is a proactive effort going on from our sales force to encourage physicians to educate patients on this."

Different Pills For Different Folks

"I believe Yasmin has probably become popular because of ads in the lay press, direct pharmaceutical consumer advertising; I also think word-of-mouth from student to student," says McKinnon Howe. "You know, one person may be on it, say, 'Gee I didn't gain any weight with this pill.' They'll tell their friend, they'll come in and think this may be the pill for me."

According to Barbieri, Yasmin may indeed be a good option for some women, but others may need to stick with what works for them.

"For the woman who claimed that she gained 10 or 20 pounds when she took an ordinary pill, I think that woman should definitely think about trying Yasmin if she wanted to continue on a birth control pill," he says. "For a woman who is on a pill who feels perfectly fine, I would urge that person to continue using that pill if they continue to need contraceptive protection."

Indeed, Yasmin is not for everyone. According to the manufacturers, the elimination of excess water and sodium that drospironone accomplishes may raise potassium levels in some women. It is recommended that those with kidney or liver disease should not take Yasmin.

Aside from a few risks that may be specific to one pill formulation or another, all oral contraceptives carry the risk of rare, but serious complications like blood clots. Cigarette smoking has been shown to increase these risks.

"Birth control pills are different, formulations are different and every individual reacts differently," says McKinnon-Howe. "One person may have no problem with the pill and others may gain five to 10 pounds. That's why it's important for people who take birth control pills to have an ongoing relationship with their health-care provider, so these side effects can be addressed and those pill changes can be made to fix the problem."

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