On The Pill & Feeling Moody? Part Of Your Brain May Have Shrunk

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More than 46 million women in the U.S. have reported using some form of birth control. Of those women, more than 12% take oral contraceptives. This massive number might be due to the many benefits of oral contraceptives, including pregnancy prevention and period regulation. While the benefits are undeniable, hormonal birth control has also been linked to depression and mood swings. A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) might have found the reason for those changes in emotions. 

The study found that women on birth control have a smaller key region of the brain than women not taking oral contraceptives, and that change might lead to increased anger and depressive symptoms. 

The researchers took MRI scans of 50 healthy women, including 21 who were on hormonal birth control. After analyzing the images, they found that the hypothalamic volume of women on the pill was smaller compared to the other women. 

The hypothalamus is the region of the brain that maintains homeostasis or balance within the body. It does this by regulating body temperature, heart rate, sleep cycles, libido, as well as thirst and appetite. It is also responsible for regulating mood. 

The alteration of the brain structure did not affect cognitive functioning, according to the study. However, early research did reveal that women with smaller hypothalamic volumes also tended to show more signs of anger and depression. 

The size difference between the studied brain regions was called "dramatic," by MRI examiner Michael L. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D. According to the report, structural changes in the hypothalamus have never before been linked to sex hormones and oral contraceptives. The new evidence will hopefully encourage scientists to continue researching potential cognitive effects of hormonal birth control. 

Before you call your pharmacist to cancel your prescription, it's important to understand that this research is nascent. It is meant to provide better awareness of the possible causes for mood alterations in birth control users, not dissuade the use of it. If you do consult with your doctor and decide that hormonal birth control is no longer right for you, try these techniques to help prevent post-birth control syndrome.

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