Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Searcher: Is the Pill Affecting Your Brain?

     This week in our readings and class we have discussed hormonal contraception and abortion.  We have more or less discussed how hormonal contraceptives such as The Pill affects progesterone levels and some potential side effects such as break through bleeding.  So when I combed the internet this week to find an article about The Pill, I tried to focus on some of the side effects that we have yet to discuss in any depth.
     In 2010, an article was written on how birth control pills alter brain structure and activity.  The article focuses on how The Pill is still a steroid as it supplies a steady stream of estrogen and progesterone to a woman's body.  This issue with this is that the brain is a sponge for hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.  In men, testosterone causes them to take more risks, promotes aggression, and increases their sex drives.  The lack of testosterone in a woman's body causes her to be more kind and gentle.  The question becomes what happens to women with artificial doses of hormones?

       To answer this question, scientist studied the brains of men, women on the pill, and women not on the pill.  What they found was that men and women not on the pill had large areas of grey matter in regions associated with learning and memory.  Women on the pill had "larger gray matter volumes in the prefrontal cortex, pre- and postcentral gyri, the parahippocampal and fusiform gyri and temporal regions, when compared to naturally cycling women."  While it is still uncertain as to what these grey areas mean, it is agreed that it is a bad idea to play with brain function without further research.    The research was unfortunately vague on the types of hormonal contraceptives used and did not measure the levels of circulating hormones, which could have answered more questions.  Also different birth control hormone mixtures can either raise or lower hormone concentrations in women and these affects are still unknown.

      While I am all for the empowering affects of hormonal contraception for women, it is important that they understand that there are risks involved and that the effects are not fully understood.  It is clear that future research needs to be done because altering brain structure is a cause for concern.

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