Birth control pills are one of the most popular ways American women prevent pregnancy, but scientists still don’t fully understand the medication’s unintended side effects. Now, a study points to a newly detected side effect of birth control: physical changes to a crucial area of the brain.
Brain scans from 50 women show that oral contraceptive pills may impact brain structure — something that previous studies haven’t really looked into, Michael Lipton, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the study’s lead author, tells Inverse.
Lipton and his team determined that oral contraceptive pills, or OCPs, were linked to lower brain volume in the hypothalamus. This is the area of the brain that affects body processes, like body temperature and heart rate, and brain processes, like appetite, mood, and sex drive. The new findings add an extra dimension to these known side effects.
The idea that brain volume changes when a person is on birth control isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. Scientists already know that sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone can cross the blood-brain barrier, and when hormones fluctuate naturally they do affect the brain, Lipton says.
Meanwhile, hormonal variation during the average menstrual cycle is linked to structural and functional brain changes. Taking an oral pill may also have similar affects on the brain, the study suggests. (Read more from “Birth Control Pill May Be Shrinking the Brain” HERE)