Scientists Discover Potential New Side Effect of Birth Control Pills

Canadian researchers have discovered that women utilizing Combined Oral Contraceptives (COCs) present adjustments in mind areas associated to emotion regulation, elevating issues concerning the potential impression on mind growth and emotional health. These results could also be reversible, highlighting the necessity for elevated consciousness and additional analysis on this space.

Scientists have found that the use of oral contraceptives could affect the morphology of mind areas associated to worry. This discovering might improve our comprehension of fear-related mechanisms that predominantly impression women.

Over 150 million women globally depend on contraception drugs. The predominant selection, Combined Oral Contraceptives (COCs), consists of synthetic hormones. These hormones have a identified affect on the mind’s community that manages worry responses.

Now a workforce of researchers in Canada has investigated present and lasting results of COC use, in addition to the position of body-produced and artificial intercourse hormones on fear-related mind areas, the neural circuitry through which worry is processed within the mind.

“In our study, we show that healthy women currently using COCs had a thinner ventromedial prefrontal cortex than men,” mentioned Alexandra Brouillard, a researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal and first creator of the examine revealed in Frontiers in Endocrinology. “This part of the prefrontal cortex is thought to sustain emotion regulation, such as decreasing fear signals in the context of a safe situation. Our result may represent a mechanism by which COCs could impair emotion regulation in women.”

Emotion regulation and contraceptives

“When prescribed COCs, girls and women are informed of various physical side effects, for example, that the hormones they will be taking will abolish their menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation,” Brouillard defined. However, the consequences of intercourse hormones on mind growth, which continues into early maturity, are hardly ever addressed. Considering how widespread COC use is, it is very important higher perceive its present and long-term results on mind anatomy and emotional regulation, the researchers mentioned.

The workforce recruited women who had been presently utilizing COCs; women who used COCs beforehand however didn’t on the time of the examine; women who by no means used any kind of hormonal contraception; and males. Comparing these teams allowed the researchers to see if COC use was related to present or long-term morphologic alterations in addition to to detect intercourse variations, since it’s established that women are extra vulnerable to experiencing anxiousness and stress-related problems than males.

“As we report reduced cortical thickness of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in COC users compared to men, our result suggests that COCs may confer a risk factor for emotion regulation deficits during their current use,” Brouillard mentioned.

The impacts of COC use, nonetheless, could also be reversible as soon as consumption is discontinued, the researchers mentioned. Given that the vmPFC impact present in present customers was not noticed in previous customers, the findings didn’t help lasting anatomical results of COC use. This, the researchers wrote, will have to be confirmed in additional research.

Much to be taught

There remains to be a lot to be taught in terms of women’s brains and the way they’re impacted by COC use. For instance, Brouillard and workforce are presently investigating the impression of age of onset and period of use to delve additional into the potential lasting results of COCs. Given that many teenage girls start utilizing COCs throughout adolescence, a delicate interval in mind growth, person age may additionally impression reversibility.

Pointing to limitations of their examine, the scientists mentioned that no causal relationship could be implied between COC use and mind morphology and that generalization of their outcomes to a normal inhabitants could also be restricted. The researchers additionally cautioned that drawing conclusion from anatomical findings to behavioral and psychological impression just isn’t doable at this level. 

“The objective of our work is not to counter the use of COCs, but it is important to be aware that the pill can have an effect on the brain. Our aim is to increase scientific interest in women’s health and raise awareness about early prescription of COCs and brain development, a highly unknown topic,” concluded Brouillard.

Reference: “Morphologic alterations of the fear circuitry: the role of sex hormones and oral contraceptives” by Alexandra Brouillard, Lisa-Marie Davignon, Anne-Marie Turcotte and Marie-France Marin, 27 September 2023, Frontiers in Endocrinology.
DOI: 10.3389/fendo.2023.1228504

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