Changes in androgens during treatment with four low-dose contraceptives

Contraception. 1996 Mar;53(3):171-6. doi: 10.1016/0010-7824(96)00006-6.


The aim of the present study was to compare changes in the endogenous androgen environment in healthy women while on low-dose oral contraceptives (OCs). One-hundred healthy women were randomized to receive one of four OCs during six months: 21 tablets of Cilest, Femodeen, Marvelon, or Mercilon. During the luteal phase of the pretreatment cycle, body weight and blood pressure were recorded and the following parameters were measured: sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG), testosterone (T), free testosterone (FT), 5 alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), androstenedione (A), dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S) and 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone (170HP) while also the free androgen index (FAI) was calculated. Measurements were repeated during the 3rd week of pill intake in the 4th and the 6th pill month. There were no differences on body mass and blood pressure with the use of the four OCs. The mean serum DHEA-S decreased significantly in all groups though less in the Mercilon group when compared to Cilest and Marvelon (approximately 20% vs 45%). Mean serum SHBG and CBG increased significantly in all four groups approximately 250% and 100%, respectively. In each group CBG also increased significantly but less in women taking Mercilon (-75%) as compared to the others (-100%). Current low-dose OCs were found to have similar impact on the endogenous androgen metabolism with significant decreases of serum testosterone, DHT, A, and DHEA-S. They may be equally beneficial in women with androgen related syndromes such as acne and hirsutism.

PIP: Health researchers randomly assigned 100 healthy women aged 18-38 from the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia to one of four various oral contraceptive (OC) groups to undergo six cycles of OC therapy so they could evaluate changes in plasma concentrations of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG), albumin (Alb), testosterone (T), free testosterone (FT), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), androstenedione (A), dehydro-epiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S), and 17 alpha-hydroxyprogesterone (17OHP). The four monophasic OCs were Cilest (35 mcg ethinyl estradiol [E2] and 250 mcg norgestimate), Femodeen (30 mcg E2 and 75 mcg gestodene), Marvelon (30 mcg E2 and 150 mcg desogestrel), and Mercilon (20 mcg E2 and 150 mcg desogestrel). There were 12 dropouts. Neither body weight nor blood pressure changed significantly during the study. All steroidal serum parameters (T, FT, DHT, A, DHEA-S, 17OHP, Alb) fell significantly during the six cycles of OC treatment (ratio of decrease, 1.3-3), regardless of OC type. These changes had appeared after cycle 4. The only significant difference between the OC groups was that the mean decrease of DHEA-S for Mercilon was lower than that for the other OC groups (21% vs. 43% for Cilest, 44% for Marvelon, and 34% for Femodeen; p 0.05). SHBG and CBG rose greatly during OC use in all four OC groups (mean increase = 263% and 94%, respectively; p 0.05). The increase in CBG was significantly less in the Mercilon group than in the other OC groups (74% vs. 96% for Cilest, 101% for Femodeen, and 102% for Marvelon; p 0.05). These findings show that OC use changed the endogenous androgen environment in the direction of hypoandrogenism. Thus, all four OCs can equally treat androgen-related syndromes (e.g., acne and hirsutism).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • 17-alpha-Hydroxyprogesterone
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Androgens / blood*
  • Androstenedione / blood
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined / administration & dosage*
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined / adverse effects*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / analogs & derivatives
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / blood
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Desogestrel / administration & dosage
  • Desogestrel / adverse effects
  • Dihydrotestosterone / blood
  • Drug Combinations
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / administration & dosage
  • Ethinyl Estradiol / adverse effects
  • Ethinyl Estradiol-Norgestrel Combination* / analogs & derivatives*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyprogesterones / blood
  • Luteal Phase
  • Norgestrel / administration & dosage
  • Norgestrel / adverse effects
  • Norgestrel / analogs & derivatives
  • Norpregnenes / administration & dosage
  • Norpregnenes / adverse effects
  • Pancuronium / administration & dosage
  • Pancuronium / adverse effects
  • Pancuronium / analogs & derivatives
  • Progestins / administration & dosage
  • Progestins / adverse effects
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Transcortin / metabolism


  • Androgens
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined
  • Drug Combinations
  • Hydroxyprogesterones
  • Norpregnenes
  • Progestins
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • norgestimate, ethinyl estradiol drug combination
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Femovan
  • Norgestrel
  • Testosterone
  • Androstenedione
  • Ethinyl Estradiol
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • 17-alpha-Hydroxyprogesterone
  • Ethinyl Estradiol-Norgestrel Combination
  • Desogestrel
  • Transcortin
  • Pancuronium
  • dacuronium