(LifeSiteNews) — A new study shows a link between oral contraceptives and higher rates of depression, especially among women who began taking the drugs as teenagers.
Recently released data from the United Kingdom specifically found that depression rates were greater in the first two years of oral contraceptive use and that girls who took the drugs before or at age 20 faced 130 percent higher depression rates than their peers who didn’t use them.
“We observed that the first 2 years of OC [oral contraceptive] use were associated with a higher rate of depression compared to never users,” researchers concluded. “Although the risk was not as pronounced beyond the first 2 years, ever OC use was still associated with an increased lifetime risk of depression.”
“Additionally, OC use during adolescence might increase the risk of depression later in life. Our results are consistent with a causal relationship between OC use and depression, as supported by the sibling analysis.”
Researchers noted that, “to validate causality, we examined familial confounding in 7,354 sibling pairs,” which strengthened and confirmed the results. They also warned that “physicians and patients should be aware of this potential risk when considering OCs.”
Out of the 264,557 participants, 80.6 percent had used oral contraceptives at some point in their lives, with “the median time from first initiation to last use of OC [being] 10 years, and the median age at initiating and discontinuing use was 21 and 32 years, respectively.” At the beginning of the study, these women “were younger, had a lower TDI (higher socioeconomic status), had less often a family history of depression, and had an earlier sexual debut, compared to the never users.”
However, upon returning for a follow-up, “a total of 24,750 women received a diagnosis of depression.” Researchers also conducted a “secondary outcome analysis” to include “women who may have experienced depression but did not seek treatment or receive a diagnosis.” This was done through a mental health questionnaire (MHQ).
Out of the 82,232 women who completed the questionnaire, “44,606 reported experiencing at least one of the core depressive symptoms.” Those who filled out the MHQ and began taking contraceptives “before or at the age of 20 had 130% higher rate of depressive symptoms compared to never users.” Adults older than 20 also faced depression at 92 percent higher rates than those who did not take the drugs.
Although “continued use of OCs was not associated with an increased rate of depression,” the results showed that “both recent (2 years since cessation) and previous OC users (more than 2 years since cessation) had an increased hazard of depression…compared to never users.” The MHQ analysis further verified results that any history of contraceptive use was associated with greater risk of depression compared to women who did not take the drugs.
Researchers concluded that “OC use is causally associated with an increased risk of depression in adolescents as well as in adults, especially shortly after the initiation.” While declining to urge women to avoid contraceptive use altogether, they emphasized the need to inform women of the mental health risks involved and suggested that “conducting further research to determine the cause of hormone contraceptive-precipitated depression [is] warranted.”
Though the most recent evidence of risks associated with oral contraceptives, this study is not the first to show long-term mental and physical health issues linked to the drugs. Such association was publicly highlighted in 2005, when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it classified commonly used contraceptives containing both estrogen and progesterone as carcinogenic.
Similarly, a study released earlier this year found that hormonal contraception is linked to higher risk of breast cancer. OCs have also been proven to cause anxiety, seizures, and embolisms and to lead to significant bone loss among girls who take them as teenagers.