New research provides evidence that oral contraceptive use is related to changes in brain structure and function. The study, published in Hormones and Behavior, indicates that oral contraceptive use during puberty might impact stress reactivity and also increase brain activity when working memory is engaged.
“Oral contraceptives have been commercially available for over 60 years and are currently used by 150 million women worldwide. However, little is known about their behavioral and neurophysiological effects, especially during puberty/early adolescence, a critical period of development,” explained Nafissa Ismail, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and the corresponding author of the study.
“We were particularly interested in investigating the effect of oral contraceptives on brain structure and function, especially in women who began taking oral contraceptives during puberty and adolescence.”
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) to examine the brain activity and structure of 75 women as they completed a test of working memory. In addition, 140 women completed the Trier Social Stress Test, an experimentally verified stress-inducing scenario in which the participants are asked to give a speech and do mental arithmetic.
“This study is the first to examine the age-dependent effect of OC use on brain structure and function during working memory tasks,” the researchers said.