A recent study revealed hidden harm caused by birth control pills for millions of women, suggesting that they may weaken fear regulation areas in women’s brains.
More than 150 million women worldwide use oral contraceptives (OC) and combined oral contraceptives (COC) composed of synthetic hormones.
It is known that sex hormones modify the brain network involved in fear processes. Therefore, a team of researchers in Canada studied the current and lasting effects of using combined oral contraceptives.
In the study published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology, the researchers analyzed the role of synthetic sex hormones produced by the body in brain areas related to fear and the neural circuits through which fear is processed in the brain.
The lead author of the study, Alexandra Provencher, was quoted by “Medical Express” as saying, “In our study, we showed that healthy women currently using combined oral contraceptives have a thinner ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) than men.”
Provencher, a researcher at the University of Quebec in Montreal, added, “This part of the prefrontal cortex is believed to regulate emotions, such as reducing fear signals in a safe context, and our results may indicate a mechanism through which combined oral contraceptives can weaken emotional regulation in women.”
She explained, “When prescribing combined oral contraceptives, girls and women are informed of various physical side effects, such as the hormones they will take potentially stopping the menstrual cycle and preventing ovulation. However, the effects of sex hormones on brain development, which continue until early adulthood, are rarely addressed.”
The research team recruited women currently using oral contraceptives, women who had previously used combined oral contraceptives but were not using them during the study, as well as women who had never used any form of hormonal contraception, in addition to a group of men for comparison.
The researchers noted that the effects of using combined oral contraceptives may be reversible once they are discontinued. As the thinning of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) observed in current users of oral contraceptives was not seen in previous users, the results did not support lasting anatomical effects of using combined oral contraceptives.