An innovative new smartphone application reportedly provides a more effective form of birth control than conventional contraceptives, but is the hype really justified in the case of this new technology?
The Natural Cycles fertility app combines the use of a thermometer to measure body temperature with calendar calculating methods to work out the days when a woman would be at high or low risk of pregnancy.
Women have been involved in a Swedish study assessing the efficacy of this new software, and examining how successful it will be in preventing pregnancy.
During the testing period, 143 unplanned pregnancies occurred, only ten of which were the result of the app for wrongly indicating a safe day in the menstrual cycle.
Data collected by the app was used to calculate that five women out of every 1,000 will accidentally become pregnant each year if the software is used correctly.
It is suggested that this could be particularly attractive for women who are not wishing to conceive but decline other forms of contraception for religious or cultural reasons, or who have concerns about the potential side-effects of hormonal contraception.
The manufacturers of the app state that “the algorithm behind the app learns about each individual woman’s temperature fluctuations over time, so becomes more accurate as you use it more frequently. You say what your goal is when you start the app, so if you are planning a pregnancy rather than preventing, we identify the most fertile days and flag if you need to see a fertility specialist.”
The study was carried out by researchers from the manufacturer of the application, Natural Cycles Nordic AB, along with the Karolinska Institutet and University Hospital, Stockholm, with funding provided by Natural Cycles Nordic AB.
It has been pointed out by independent observers that there is something of conflict of interest with this study, as its lead authors, Elina Scherwitzl and Raoul Scherwitzl, created the app and founded the company with stock ownership, while another author, Jonas Sellberg, is employed by Natural Cycles Nordic AB.
Nonetheless, despite these concerns the study was ultimately published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care.
Although this app can be a useful indicator, it is fair to assert that utilising it in the absence of other forms of contraception would be an extremely risky approach.
In addition, the study from which conclusions have been drawn was not entirely ideal. In particular, the retrospective design means data was not collected to specifically answer this question and may not be fit for purpose.
And it is notable that there were no women aged older than 35 in the study, nor younger than 20, meaning that the data may not apply across all age groups.
Yet despite the criticisms of the data acquired by researchers, the new app evidently will provide some form of protection against pregnancy, and can be a useful tool in accordance with other established methods.
It certainly shouldn’t, however, be seen as a silver bullet solution.