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A Surprising Link Between Birth Control Pills And a Tiny Brain Part Size Explained

There is a small but crucial part at the base of the brain which is a control hub for the hormonal and nervous system. A recent study found that this key area is significantly smaller in women using pills for birth control. The birth control pills got approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the United States in 1960.

Today, almost 12.6% of women of 15 to 45 ages using these pills in the United States. Oral contraceptive, known as “the pill” is one of the most popular types of birth control. People use it for several other conditions including, acne, polycystic ovary syndrome, irregular menstruation, endometriosis, and cramps.

Nonetheless, the pill prevents pregnancy by hormone control. Manufacturers produced it for stopping ovulation with the hormone progesterone but it has evolved to include many other different types. It involves different hormone combinations, doses, and schedules for the desired outcome.

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People also using the pill to skip or entirely stop the menstruation. There was very little research on the effects of these birth control pills on the hypothalamus before this current study which as presented by the researchers in the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in 2019.

This small key region of the brain above the pituitary gland performs the vital roles including hormone production and controls a range of body functions which includes sleep cycles, sex drive, mood, body temperature, appetite, and heart rate. The researchers acknowledge that before this study there had not been any research and reporting on the effects of these pills on the size of the human hypothalamus.

One of the professors of radiology at the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center and medical director of MRI services at the Montefiore Medical Center, Michael Lipton, said that there is a lack of research into the effects of such oral contraceptives on the vital part human brain.

Before this, there was not any known way for analyzing MRI exams of the hypothalamus quantitatively. He said he wasn’t expecting such robust and clear effects. The researchers also noted a dramatic difference in the size of brain structure between women using the pill or those who were not using oral contraceptives.

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He also said that the previous work of the team inspired researchers to investigate such effects. They have reported some interesting findings on the sex-related risk in brain injury. Other studies show that the female hormone progesterone is neuroprotective.

As oral contraceptive pills are widely used, researchers are exploring the effects of these pills in healthy women for a better understanding of the potential role of these pills in sex-divergent findings. This reported finding is one of the outcomes of the exploration.

Although there was no such noteworthy link between a woman’s cognitive ability and hypothalamic volume, the early findings show that there is a link between smaller hypothalamic volume and reduced anger. This motivates further investigation on the effects of oral contraceptives on the structure of the brain and their potential impact on its functions.



Areeba Hussain

The author is a fulltime medical and healthcare writer. She graduated in Medical Microbiology and Immunology with distinction. Her areas of prime interest are medicine, medical technology, disease awareness, and research analysis. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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