Does Birth Control Change Your Brain?

By: Seeker

Ladies, have you ever felt tired, easily frustrated, and prone to feeling low? Maybe it’s just your birth control. Hey guys, Julia here for DNews The pill is over 60 years old! It was a revolution, it allowed women to take full control of their reproductive health. And since then, it’s been studied a whole bunch, and we’ve talked about it before on the show. Check some links for those episodes down below.

Some women suffer from a form of PMS so severe it affects work, family, life, etc, called PreMenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD. For some of these women a prescription of birth control makes symptoms easier to manage. On the other hand, birth control gets a bad rap. While many women report no adverse side effects, some say the pill makes them MORE moody and depressed. So who is right? Well, a recent study published in the Journal of Human Brain Mapping found that oral birth control has a strange way of affect a woman’s brain. Neuroscientists from UCLA compared some women who take oral contraceptives, or OC, and some “naturally-cycling” women who don’t. They found that women who take OC had lower cortical thickness in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex. The researchers say that these parts of the brain are related to processing rewards and other things like incoming stimuli.

But more research is needed to see if these changes are related to a change in behavior. Although, the lead author of that study told the Huffington Post that those changes in the brain might be responsible for some of the negative feelings some women get when starting the pill, like anxiety and depression. But these results are a stark contrast to some found in a 2010 study. That study published in the journal Brain Research also compared women on the pill and “naturally-cycling” women.

The researchers found that some women on birth control had more grey matter in some areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, memory and learning. You’d think that would make women less moody, right? What’s going on? One review published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, found that there are at least two groups of women who respond differently to birth control pills. Some really do seem to be more emotionally stable on the pill while others have increased rates of depression, anxiety, fatigue, neurotic symptoms, compulsion and anger.

Does Birth Control Change Your Brain?

The researchers found that in some studies elevated levels of estradiol, a derivative of which is a major component in OC, might have antidepressant properties. But they also found that it can lower the body’s production of estradiol, which might lower moods. That same review also found that progesterone -- the other major component of combination OC -- might elevate moods at low concentrations but maybe lower moods at higher concentrations.

It really depends on what kind of birth control you’re on and what levels of hormones those pills contain. One meta-analysis published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that for most women, OC affect on mood is a positive one. Yet there is a sub-group who may experience the opposite. So while birth control does allow women to take control over their reproductive choices, it’s also a very personal decision and seems the effects are personal too.

In fact, the pill can even affect who you fancy too. Check out this video from Trace and Amy to learn more.

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