Lead researcher Alexandra Brouillard, from Universit du Qubec Montral, highlighted the findings, stating, “Our study demonstrates that women using COCs have a thinner ventromedial prefrontal cortex compared to men. This region is believed to support emotion regulation, including reducing fear signals in safe environments. This result may explain how COCs might affect emotion regulation in women.”
Brouillard emphasized that when prescribing COCs, medical professionals often discuss physical side effects, such as the cessation of
and ovulation. However, the impact of sex hormones on ongoing brain development, which extends into early adulthood, is seldom addressed. Given the widespread use of COCs, understanding their current and long-term effects on brain structure and emotional regulation is crucial.
The research team recruited women currently using COCs, those who had used them in the past but were not at the time of the study, women who had never used hormonal contraception, and men. This comparison allowed them to assess if COC usage correlated with current or lasting morphological changes and to identify any gender-based disparities, considering women’s higher susceptibility to anxiety and stress-related conditions.
Changes in the Brain Structure due to the use of Contraceptives
“As we observed a reduction in cortical thickness of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in COC users compared to men, our findings suggest that COCs may pose a risk for emotion regulation difficulties during their current usage,” Brouillard explained.
However, the effects of COC use may be reversible after discontinuation. The vmPFC thinning observed in current users was not present in past users, indicating potential reversibility. The researchers noted that further studies are required to confirm these observations.
There is still much to uncover about how COC usage impacts women’s brains. Brouillard and her team are currently investigating the influence of age of onset and duration of use to gain deeper insights into potential lasting effects. Considering that many teenage girls initiate COC use during adolescence, a crucial period in brain development, age at initiation may also influence reversibility.
The researchers acknowledge limitations in their study, cautioning against implying a causal relationship between COC use and brain morphology, as well as urging caution when generalizing results to the broader population. They also emphasized that drawing conclusions about behavioral and psychological impacts from anatomical findings is premature at this stage.
Brouillard concluded, “Our objective is not to discourage COC use, but it is important to recognize its potential effect on the brain. Our aim is to stimulate scientific interest in women’s health and raise awareness about early COC prescription and its impact on brain development, a largely unexplored area.”
- Influence of combined oral contraceptives on polycystic ovarian morphology-related parameters in Korean women with polycystic ovary syndrome – (https:www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6962579/)