July 13, 2024

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Another Side Effect of Birth Control Pills Discovered

Another Side Effect of Birth Control Pills Discovered



 

Another Side Effect of Birth Control Pills Discovered

Since the 1960s, women have been using birth control pills, but our understanding of the complex ways in which these hormone-filled tablets interact with the body remains incomplete.

A group of scientists from Aarhus University and the United States recently conducted a study, testing stress responses in 131 young women when blood samples were taken.

The study included women who were taking birth control pills and those who were not.

Specifically, the researchers focused on measuring the levels of stress hormones called adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) in the women’s blood.

 

 

 

 

A recent study has found that engaging in social activities like playing board games or singing can lower stress hormone levels in women who are not taking birth control pills but has no effect on women who are taking birth control pills.

Researchers believe that birth control pills may influence the body’s natural stress response, possibly due to their impact on hormone regulation.

 

The study results indicate that engaging in 15 minutes of social activity after blood samples were taken can reduce stress hormone levels in women who are not taking birth control pills. In contrast, women taking birth control pills did not experience a reduction in adrenocorticotropic hormone levels.

To avoid additional stress for the participants, researchers inserted a small intravenous catheter during the collection of the first blood sample. This allowed them to take blood after the social activity without the need to re-insert a needle into the women.

“I hope that our research can contribute to improving the treatment and prevention of stress-related conditions in women. Additionally, this study helps broaden our understanding of the interaction between gender and stress hormones,” said Michael Winterdahl.

The average age of the participants was 20.5 years. After blood samples were taken, they could participate in one of six different group activities, such as playing board games, getting to know each other in a group meeting, singing together, or attending a church service.

“Being together with others is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress,” said Michael Winterdahl, who is a visiting scholar in the Department of Clinical Medicine’s Translational Neuropsychiatry group and the last author of the article. “Our study results are significant because they suggest that people using birth control pills do not experience a reduction in stress hormone levels during social activities compared to those who do not use birth control pills.”

 

 

Several competing hypotheses:

 

This study differs from previous research that primarily focused on the stress hormone cortisol under extreme conditions. In this study, researchers measured adrenocorticotropic hormone, which changes more rapidly than cortisol, making it possible to observe and analyze rapid changes in a person’s stress response.

It is well-known that birth control pills can affect women’s stress responses. However, linking adrenocorticotropic hormone levels to social activities represents a novel approach to research.

“By studying adrenocorticotropic hormone levels, we take another step toward understanding how the brain regulates stress because adrenocorticotropic hormone is a neurotransmitter from the brain to the adrenal cortex, which secretes cortisol,” Michael Winterdahl said. “When we analyze adrenocorticotropic hormone levels, we gain insights into the rapid response mechanisms that control the body’s stress response.”

It is known that birth control pills can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in women. As the name suggests, stress signals travel from the brain’s hypothalamus through the pituitary gland (which releases adrenocorticotropic hormone) to the adrenal glands (which release cortisol).

Researchers still need to ultimately explain why people taking birth control pills do not experience a reduction in stress hormone levels during social activities compared to those not taking birth control pills.

“There are several competing hypotheses trying to explain why cortisol levels are lower in people using birth control pills. Our study brings us closer to explanations centered on the dynamics between the brain and adrenocorticotropic hormone,” Michael Winterdahl said. “Biochemistry is complex, but our work is based on the hypothesis that birth control pills may suppress the body’s natural production of progesterone.”

Progesterone can be converted into allopregnanolone, which has multiple sedative effects and can influence stress responses.

 

 

 

Differences in different phases:


This study involved women who were both taking and not taking birth control pills, and these women were in different phases of their menstrual cycles.

The study showed that stress responses in women who were not taking birth control pills depended on which phase of their menstrual cycle they were in. The relaxation group activities did not affect adrenocorticotropic hormone levels in women in the proliferative phase of their menstrual cycle, which is just after menstruation ends when the body begins to release hormones to initiate ovulation.

“In the natural menstrual cycle’s proliferative phase, progesterone levels are very low. This results in minimal conversion of progesterone to allopregnanolone,” Michael Winterdahl said. “Because allopregnanolone is crucial for activating receptors that regulate stress responses, we do not see a reduction in adrenocorticotropic hormone levels in women during the early phase of their natural cycle.”

He noted that women in the proliferative phase also tend to be more active, which can be seen as an adaptation where stress responses and behavior change with the cycle. Women taking birth control pills, on the other hand, exhibited a “disconnect” in their stress responses, meaning they did not adapt to the specific situation.

The impact of this situation on women is still not precisely understood, making it necessary to conduct further research to clarify the complex relationship between hormone levels and stress responses.

“It’s important to note that birth control pills are not one-size-fits-all. There are different generations of birth control pills, each with its own chemical composition, which means that the side effects of birth control pills can vary,” Michael Winterdahl said. “Therefore, our experiments must be replicated in a larger and more diverse population of subjects.”

 

 

 

 

Another Side Effect of Birth Control Pills Discovered

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