yaz-tv-commercial-300x168Despite facing ever-rising numbers of lawsuits over their top-selling drug – birth control pill Yaz – the Bayer pharmaceutical company has released a rebranded version, with added vitamin B. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, the mounting claims for compensation made by those who believe Yaz, or more specifically the synthetic progesterone component of Yaz – drospirenone, caused their stroke, blood clot or heart attack or that of their now dead or disabled loved one, the company has seen fit to produce a modified alternative to improve on the risk of other, lesser known side effects.

Bayer suggests that Beyaz, with its added levomefolate calcium – a form of folic acid, which is a B vitamin – will alleviate the possibility of pregnancy complications and birth defects produced by the original Yaz pill. Yaz causes folate deficiency which creates problems if a woman falls pregnant whilst taking the drug, or soon after stopping. In the press release sent out by Bayer last week, the company stated that Beyaz would provide ‘folate supplementation’ – admitting in subtext that Yaz causes this deficiency and that the millions of women taking Yaz as the most popular birth control pill in the US and Europe have therefore experienced deficiency in a type of vitamin B seen as vital enough to necessitate the creation of a new drug.

Just as it seemed possible Yaz might be taken off the market, here is Yaz, new and improved. Except Beyaz still contains drospirenone, the claimed cause of not only serious physical side effects – but also a negative mental and emotional impact documented by women across the Internet.

Bayer is focusing on the effect of folate deficiency on pregnancy and the unborn. This choice suggests Bayer’s marketing department is aware that most women taking the Pill aren’t wanting to get pregnant, aren’t planning on getting pregnant soon and therefore will dismiss folate deficiency as nothing to worry over, yet. Although some women may be alarmed at their suggestion that you can get pregnant when on the Pill. A little research reveals folate supplementation has been linked in studies to a decrease in stroke and thrombosis risk – a subtext Bayer could not print without admitting blame and accepting the law suit claims.

The production of pharmaceuticals is a billion dollar industry and it is, unfortunately, necessary to assume moves are made for money and the market and not in the hope of improving the lives of women. The less sick, or deceased women, the less lawsuits, and the more money to be made for Bayer. The creation of Beyaz suggests Bayer cares, and has the interests of women at heart, but essentially it is a cynical ploy to win back the loyalty of the many women who have become suspicious of Yaz, and consequently the Pill as a whole, due on the controversies and, most importantly, their own experiences.

Bayer has created a product that will solve a problem caused by one of its products, and make money from this. Even more ludicrous than that, it is ‘solving’ a problem by making an addition to a Pill that is causing the problem, in the hope the negative impact on the body will be balanced out. Bayer could have told its customers that they need to take a folic acid supplement when using Yaz, or eat foods rich in folic acid, instead of creating Beyaz.

Folate deficiency holds more issues than those stated by the company – sufferers can experience weakness, fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating – to name just a few. If Yaz produces a folate deficiency, it is also right to assume it is producing deficiency in other B vitamins, and other vitamins generally. By highlighting the issue, Bayer is revealing a more profound concern. There has been speculation that Yaz also creates a B12 deficiency – and it is logical speculation – and this can lead to psychosis, depression and personality changes. Intake of B vitamins of any kind is inextricably linked to good mental and emotional health.

A quick scan of blogs, including my own – Sweetening The Pill– and forums across the web shows many women taking Yaz experienced symptoms indicative of personality changes, and particularly depression. The new drug’s name implies we can Be Yaz, not just take Yaz – when many women have felt for a long time that Yaz has affected their very being and sense of self. The mental and emotional impact of Yaz is not  down to B vitamin deficiency alone, and will not be rectified by supplementation.

And back to Bayer’s claims – doctors are beginning to advise a woman be off the Pill for several months before trying to get pregnant to ensure avoidance of the problems Beyaz is meant to solve. Yaz has long come with the warning that it is not to be taken by pregnant women. It would be interesting to know what statistics Bayer used to ascertain how many women get pregnant on Yaz and stay pregnant. Surely many miscarry as a result of Yaz’s impact, or choose an abortion – perhaps even as a direct result of such warnings. Would taking the same Pill with a B vitamin supplement be enough?

Alexandra Pope and Jane Bennett wrote in their book The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You? that the Pill affects a woman’s ability to actually absorb vitamins. They argue that even if a woman eats healthily and takes supplements, being on the Pill can cause overall vitamin deficiency, which has knock on effects for physical and mental health. This considered, the folate supplement in Beyaz would have to be at a very high level to ensure some is absorbed, and even then the process is hampered by the Pill itself that holds the supplement. It is difficult to see how this change will help, even less so how Bayer studied the impact and found the benefits. That it is onlya vitamin – which has been studied in its own right – perhaps allowed Beyaz to be approved with little thought – making this a marketing move first and foremost.

Sure to follow is a peppy advertising campaign playing on the ‘Be Yaz’ name. It will be interesting to see how this new Pill is received by former Yaz users in particular.

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