Since the Apple app store’s opening in 2008, $60 billion has been made by developers of apps. On New Year’s Day alone this year, $240 million was made by purchasing just apps. With 2.2 million apps to choose from on the Apple store alone, we have come a long way from playing snake on our Nokia’s.
So isn’t it fitting that something as revolutionary as the smartphone app is now being used by an application that is equally as innovative?
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Over fifty years ago the world was transformed by the advent of The Pill. Since its approval in the 1960s for contraceptive use, over 200 million women have taken it. It put women in control of their own lives enabling them to choose if and when they wanted children. For the first time in the history of mankind, women were able to take responsibility for a method of preventing pregnancy.
Swedish particle physicist Dr Elina Berglund has now made an app for that. Natural Cycles is an app that prevents pregnancy by tracking measurements you plug into it; measurements taken by a thermometer you pop into your mouth every morning. Depending on these measurements, the app’s algorithm will tell you if it’s safe to have unprotected sex, termed a ‘green day’, or whether you should take other forms of protection, a ‘red day’. The basic scientific fact behind this is that a woman can only get pregnant on six days of her monthly cycle. So by using an algorithm that takes into account temperature and many other factors like sperm survival, temperature fluctuations and cycle irregularities the app is able to predict the likelihood of becoming pregnant that day. Other factors can also be added into the app to reduce your red days and increase your green, like when you’re having intercourse or by taking LH tests (Luteinising Hormone tests can detect ovulation through urine).
The pearl index is a way of measuring how effective contraceptives are. The closer to zero, the better the contraceptive. Seven women in 100 per year using Natural Cycles as their main contraceptive got pregnant. This equates to a pearl index of seven: very high protection. Compare this to the pill which has a pearl index of nine, which is also very high protection, yet less effective than the app. Plus Natural Cycles has no added hormones which cause the side effects (like certain cancers and deep vein thrombosis) of the contraceptive pill.
The app is still not considered as effective as other contraceptive methods, such as the Nexplanon contraceptive implant, with a Pearl Index measured between 0.00 and 0.4. However, it’s really interesting how the advancement in computer technology and an algorithm written by a particle physicist has now meant that we are now able to control and understand our own bodies better via a mobile app, without harmful side effects.