Contraceptive pill 'affects women's brain health' - study

oral contraception
More than 150 million women across the world use oral contraceptives. Photo credit: Getty.

Oral contraceptive pills can negatively affect women's brain health, according to a new study out of Canada. 

Birth control pills are used by more than 150 million women across the world, with many starting to take them during puberty or as teenagers, and researchers from the Ottawa School of Psychology have found that they can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing.

They focused on the effects of synthetic hormones found in the oral contraceptives, and if they had any behavioural and neurophysiological effects on the brain.

Researchers looked at the brain function between women who had taken oral contraceptives during puberty or in adulthood and those who had never used them, and found that those on the pill were more likely to suffer from stress.

They also had an increase in activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in complex cognitive behaviour, and were more likely to react to negative stimuli, which the researchers suggested could lead to depression.

They concluded that the oral contraceptive pill is related to "significant structural changes in brain regions", which could affect emotional processing and stress reactivity.

"Our findings offer critical insight into women's health. It brings awareness to the potential influences of oral contraceptive use," senior author Nafissa Ismail explained. "It could also provide a neural mechanism for why some women develop mood-related disorders following oral contraceptive use."

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