Contraceptive pills ‘shrink’ part of brain influencing emotions - study

Reuters / Srdjan Zivulovic
California scientists have discovered contraceptive pills may change the structure of their users’ brains, eventually leading to anxiety and depression.

The new finding adds to quite an array of previously known side effects, including headaches, mood swings, nausea, blood clots, breast, liver and cervical cancer.

In particular, the synthetic hormones in the pills shrink two principal regions of the brain, changing their structure and function.

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Also, the same ingredient is believed to suppress natural hormones.

Neuroscientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, studied the brains of 90 women, 44 of whom took contraceptive pills.

The researchers found that the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex were much thinner in the women who took the Pill.

The lateral orbitofrontal cortex regulates a person’s emotions and response to rewards, while the posterior cingulate cortex governs the ‘internal state’: inward-aimed thoughts, processing emotions and finding memories.

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Taking the Pill can lead to increased anxiety and depression, and other alarming symptoms such as decreased attraction to their partner.

“Some women experience negative emotional side effects from taking oral contraceptive pills, although scientific findings have been mixed. So it's possible that this change in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex may be related to the emotional changes that some women experience when using birth control pills,” Nicole Petersen, the research’s lead author, told the Huffington Post.

The scientists say they aren’t certain if the effects last after a woman stops taking the contraceptive pills.

Furthermore, all risks associated with the Pill increase if a woman smokes, has thrombosis, is overweight, diabetic, has high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels.

The study was published in the Human Brain Mapping journal.