Scientists: Hormonal contraceptives may alter behavior; widespread use could lead to ‘significant consequences for society’
March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — An article in the Frontiers journal of medicine is sounding the alarm about the possible effects of hormonal contraception on the human brain, suggesting that the effects may be much more profound than previously thought and calling on the scientific community to devote more research to the topic.
“Hormonal contraceptives are on the market for more than 50 years and used by 100 million women worldwide,” wrote Belinda A. Pletzer and Hubert H. Kerschbaum, a pair of Austrian neuropsychologists from the Paris-Lodron-University Salzburg. “However, while endogenous steroids have been convincingly associated with change in brain structure, function and cognitive performance, the effects of synthetic steroids contained in hormonal contraceptives on brain and cognition have barely been investigated.”
Based on what little scientific data exists tracking behavioral and neurological changes in users of hormonal contraceptives, the authors asserted that “synthetic steroids may contribute to masculinizing as well as feminizing effects on brain and behavior.”
“We conclude that there is a strong need for more systematic studies, especially on brain structural, functional and cognitive changes due to hormonal contraceptive use,” wrote Pletzer and Kerschbaum.
“Changes in brain structure and chemistry cause changes in cognition, emotion and personality and consequently in observable behaviors,” the pair continued. “If a majority of women use hormonal contraception, such behavioral changes could cause a shift in society dynamics. Since the pill is the major tool for population control, it is time to find out what it does to our brain.”
Pletzer and Kerschbaum called hormonal contraception a “global experiment” and noted that while the intake of steroids and hormones by athletes is considered “doping” and condemned by society, the same behavior by women and girls who wish to reduce the risk of pregnancy is not only tolerated but encouraged, and from increasingly younger ages, despite the lack of scientific data regarding the safety of such an approach.
“Adolescent girls start taking hormonal contraceptives earlier and earlier, often shortly after onset of puberty,” the duo wrote. “However, the majority of research on steroid actions in the brain focuses on post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy.”
Of particular concern to Pletzer and Kershbaum was the fact that the majority of neurological studies do not take into account whether female subjects are on hormonal birth control.
“Traditionally, medical as well as psychological research focused on male participants, because hormone fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle were suspected to affect the results—rightly, as it turned out,” they wrote. “Nowadays, numerous women participate in scientific studies. However, while participants on medication are excluded, studies hardly control for the use of hormonal contraception.”
Upon reviewing available data regarding the cognitive impact of hormonal contraceptives, the scientists found evidence that the drugs fundamentally alter the way women process and react to information. Citing a handful of studies showing differences in contraceptive users’ verbal communication, memories, emotional recall, and even choice of mates, they concluded that it is possible that the drugs “cause a structural re-organization of the brain.” They also noted that some studies have linked hormonal contraception to chemically based mood disorders like depression, anxiety, fatigue, neurotic symptoms, compulsion and anger.
In light of the seriousness of the evidence shown by a relatively limited amount of data, Pletzer and Kershbaum called for more thorough investigation of the effects of hormonal contraceptives on girls and women, and for medical researchers in all fields to be sure to account for this common variable.
“First and foremost, we conclude that there is a strong demand for additional studies on how hormonal contraceptives affect the brain from the molecular to the behavioral level,” the authors wrote. “Thus, future studies aiming to investigate ‘normal’ brain functioning, should control for the use of hormonal contraceptives among their participants.”
“As the number of women using oral contraceptives constantly increases, while the age of first contraceptive use constantly decreases,” the authors concluded, “the associated changes in personality and social behavior imply significant consequences for society.”