17/03/2011 18:23 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

New Pill Promises Side-Effect-Free Contraception

There's no doubt that when the pill was developed in the 1960s it changed women's lives forever. But it's not suitable for everyone, thanks to the fact that it contains hormones that can increase some women's risk for health problems.

woman-holding-contraceptive-pill Could an alternative to the hormone-based pill be in the pipeline? Photo: Getty, Stockbyte

Now, however, scientists from the University of California claim to have developed a non-hormonal contraceptive that works by turning off signals from an egg that it's ready to be fertilised.

According to the experts, whose study is published in the science journal Nature, an egg released by your ovary during your fertile time of the month releases progesterone, which binds to a substance called a calcium channel. When sperm get a sniff of the progesterone, it drives them into a frenzy and makes the stronger and faster. It also makes their tails flick more rapidly, which helps the sperm penetrate and fertilise the egg.

In other words, progesterone guides sperm towards an egg and, when it gets there, it gives the sperm a bit of a nudge to help it get inside.

However, by using a chemical called CatSper - which floods sperm cells with calcium - the scientists believe it's possible to create a new class of contraceptive drug that stops progesterone from attracting sperm in the first place.

And unlike current versions of the pill, the new drug wouldn't contain any hormones. So it potentially would not interfere with your cycle either.

A separate study, also published in Nature, suggests the role of progesterone in attracting sperm to an egg could explain some cases of infertility.

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