MRI scans conducted on women who take this birth control pill have shown that repeated exposure to the drug can lead to women’s brains shrinking. Or, in some cases, growing.
The study was somewhat inconclusive, uncertain about the exact causes of the brain structure shape differences. Does this mean that birth control could be dangerous for your brain health?
The answer to that question is a bit complicated at the moment, but it’s something of a “no”. For the time being, it appears that these preliminary discoveries don’t indicate that birth control is any more dangerous than it was already assumed to be. What the research suggests is that women on the pill could be showing larger cerebellum, hippocampus and fusiform gyrus structures in the brain.
Beyond those structures, researchers are looking into potential effects on the hypothalamus, which controls things like unconscious breathing and heart rate. Other research has suggested potential connections between birth control pills and the size of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.
Again, these findings weren’t conclusive, but simply suggested the changes in brain structure.
Neuroscientist Michael Lipton spoke on the importance of this research, stating “There is a lack of research on the effects of oral contraceptives on this small but essential part of the living human brain,” while speaking at a recent scientific conference.
“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.” It’s worth noting that Lipton’s research had a small sample size of only 50 women, and the team’s findings have yet to be peer-reviewed.
The hypothesis that Lipton’s team is testing for is that the hypothalamus is shrinking since birth control pills interfere with the hormones in the body that the hypothalamus would normally produce. This, in turn, could cause the brain to have structures change shape as a response to the shifting hypothalamus.
If Lipton’s research is right, it’s still unclear whether this even poses a threat to women’s health. However, the research is vital, because, as Lipton himself pointed out, there is woefully little research in the field.