This article and its title have been revised to reflect that the study did not prove “clearly” a causal relationship between using birth control pills and a smaller hypothalamus and has been updated to include the response of the study’s co-author, Dr. Michael Lipton, to reports suggesting it did.
Taking contraceptives on a daily basis could have harmful effects on the brain, according to at least one study.
A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) found that contraceptive pills are “associated” with a smaller hypothalamus, the part of the brain that “produces hormones and helps regulate essential bodily functions including body temperature, mood, appetite, sex drive, sleep cycles and heart rate.” The study, one of its co-authors explains, was able to “confirm, for the first time, that current oral contraceptive pill usage is associated with smaller hypothalamic volume.”
“Researchers studying the brain found that women taking oral contraceptives, commonly known as birth control pills, had significantly smaller hypothalamus volume, compared to women not taking the pill, according to a new study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA),” the society announced in a Dec. 4 press release.
The researchers studied MRI scans of a group of 50 healthy women, among them 21 who were taking oral contraceptives. Researchers then applied a “validated approach” to measure hypothalamic volume, RSNA explains.
Dr. Michael Lipton, medical director of MRI services at Montefiore Medical Center and co-author of the study, said the differences in the size of brain structures between women ingesting oral contraceptives versus women who did not were “dramatic.”
“We found a dramatic difference in the size of the brain structures between women who were taking oral contraceptives and those who were not,” said Lipton. “We validated methods for assessing the volume of the hypothalamus and confirm, for the first time, that current oral contraceptive pill usage is associated with smaller hypothalamic volume. This initial study shows a strong association (between taking oral contraceptive pills and low hypothalamic volume) and should motivate further investigation into the effects of oral contraceptives on brain structure and their potential impact on brain function.”
Other “preliminary” findings of the study, Lipton said, were that smaller hypothalamic volume could be connected to greater anger and depressive symptoms. The study also suggests that there is “no significant correlation between hypothalamic volume and cognitive performance,” RSNA notes.
In response to multiple reports about the findings of his study, Lipton pushed back on those suggesting that the study demonstrated “clearly” a causal relationship between the pills and a smaller hypothalamus.
“We haven’t demonstrated that this is clearly a causal relationship, and to do so would require a very different study,” Lipton told Vice News in response to reports suggesting otherwise. “It’s a leap to say birth control ‘shrinks’ your brain.”
As noted by LifeSiteNews, similar scientific studies have found oral contraceptives to have a negative effect on female biology.
“In 2016, Danish researchers who studied the medical histories of more than a million women over an 18-year period found that women who use hormonal contraceptives are more likely to be depressed,” reported the outlet. “A study conducted by German researchers in 2016 found that oral contraceptive pills may be damaging women’s sense of emotional connection. In 2017, another Danish study suggested a link between the use of hormonal contraceptives and mood disturbances linked to increased suicide rates.”
In 2017, another study from The New England Journal of Medicine shows that long-term hormonal contraception ingested for as long as 10 years increases the risk of breast cancer by 38%. Dr. David Agus, a University of Southern California physician, said at the time that the dosage size did not matter.
“This is the first study that had shown intrauterine devices with hormones having association with breast cancer in large numbers,” he said. “With the lower dose of oral contraceptives, we thought there wouldn’t be as much of a risk as the higher dose but it turns out to be the same — about a 20 percent increase in breast cancer overall.”
The risk for breast cancer increases by the year, beginning at 9% in year one and then progressing to 38% by year 10.