Oral contraceptives don’t just influence a woman’s reproductive system and prevent pregnancy. They’re a source of artificial hormones and synthetic steroids, both of which impact the female body in other ways, too. And research is showing that oral contraceptives can actually change the shape of certain brain regions and change how they function.
Back in 2015, neuroscientists observed 90 women who were either on the pill or not, at the University of California in Los Angeles. Their study was published in the journal, Human Brain Mapping. Those who were currently using oral contraceptives showed thinning in two brain regions: the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and he posterior cingulate cortex.
This is relevant because these regions are associated with regulating emotions and making decisions. Although these findings are preliminary, lead study author, Nicole Petersen, said “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.”
But oral contraceptives don’t just thin certain brain regions. The artificial steroid hormones present in oral contraceptives, such as estrogen and progesterone, can lead to “structural modifications” in the brain, according to this 2010 study published in Brain Research.
Here, hormonal contraceptives were associated with larger gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex, as well as five other brain regions.
More research is necessary to confirm whether this thickening of brain regions is positive or negative. However, it is certainly worth paying attention to.
Neuroscientist Craig Kinsey weighed in on these findings, explaining that “The possibility that an accepted form of chemical contraception has the ability alter the gross structure of the human brain is a cause for concern, even if the changes seem benign – for the moment.”
Should women be scared and alarmed? Instead of feeling fear, it’s important to stay informed so you can make the best decision for your own reproductive health.