Brains and birth control pills: Oral contraceptives may affect learning, memory and the immune system

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Sarah E Hill, a professor of social psychology at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas argues we need to talk about how oral contraceptives are affecting women’s thinking, emotions and behaviour. How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control is her new book about the science behind a delicate subject.

[Guardian:] How exactly does the pill affect women’s brains?

[Hill:] The pill works mainly by mimicking the second half of a woman’s monthly ovulatory cycle, in which the hormone progesterone is dominant. Its primary ingredient is artificial progesterone – so-called progestin – which shuts down the brain signal that prompts egg development.

Related article:  Do humans have free will? Neuroscientists seek solution to this 'philosophical puzzle'

A less well-understood mechanism is that progestins, which are often created by changing the molecular structure of testosterone, aren’t an exact match for our progesterone receptors. This means they can potentially stimulate other receptors, including those for testosterone, leading to masculinising effects, and for cortisol, which over time can dysregulate stress response. The stress hormone profile of pill-taking women, research suggests, is similar to people who have experienced chronic stress. Other research has found effects on the immune system, learning and memory.

Read full, original post: Dr Sarah E Hill: ‘We have a blind spot about how the pill influences women’s brains’

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