The majority of you are taking birth control pills to control your PCOS symptoms. Do you ever wonder those artificial hormones you're taking every day are doing to your body besides giving you a "monthly bleed" and a sense of normalcy? Studies are showing the Pill may affect the brain.
University Hospital Essen at the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany studied 94 women ranging in age from 18-80. They took a magnetic resonance image (MRI) of each woman's pituitary gland, which is located in the brain. The pituitary is one of the two "master glands" that governs everything going on in your body.
As expected, the researchers verified that the pituitary gland shrinks as women get older. But they also discovered that the women who had taken birth control pills also had smaller pituitary glands.
Are you taking one of those newer "third-generation" "anti-androgen" birth control pills such as Yasmim? These birth control pills contain a synthetic progesterone mimic called "drospirenone." These anti-androgen birth control pills are often prescribed to you because high levels of male hormones drive the problems of PCOS.
The University of Wisconsin gave a mental task to 115 women who were taking various oral contraceptives. Women who were using the older types of birth control pills that had an androgenic effect performed the mental task better than anyone else, including women who were not using birth control pills at all. On the other hand, Yasmin users not only performed more poorly on the mental task in comparison to older generation pill users, but they performed significantly worse than women who were not on birth control at all.
The authors concluded: "visuospatial performance is hindered with the introduction of anti-androgenic preparations."
Birth control pills containing drospirenone have another disturbing attribute, according to a study published by the Universitaire du Sart-Tilman in Belgium. Thirty-two young women taking birth control pills containing ethinylestradiol (synthetic estrogen) and drospirenone (synthetic progesterone) were compared to 30 young women not taking birth control pills.
They found that the birth control users had significantly higher levels of "lipid peroxides" than the women not using the pill. Lipid peroxides are essentially rancid fats that act like loose cannons in your body, blowing up whatever they touch and causing a chain reaction of cell damage.
Some of you may be using another synthetic progesterone mimic called "medroxyprogesterone acetate". What effect might this imitation progesterone have on your brain?
The University of Southern California performed an experiment on female rats. They exposed the rats to medroxyprogesterone, to an estrogen, or to a combination of both. They found that medroxyprogesterone impaired brain cell function, and caused an increase in lipid peroxides, which in turn leads to cell damage. Interestingly, they noted that medroxyprogesterone has a different effect in the brain than does the "natural progesterone" created by the body.
You may be wondering what you should do!
You should talk to your doctor and make your own choices. But as a minimum, you can maintain an awareness that you are introducing some very powerful, unnatural substances into your body when you take a birth control pill. When you do so, there will be unintended consequences. Personally, I cannot in good conscience recommend birth control pills as the preferred way to treat PCOS.
The foundation for long-term effective management of PCOS without the risk of side effects is to improve the quality of your diet, reduce chronic stress, exercise consistently, take selected nutritional supplements as needed, and live a healthier lifestyle. To this you can add pharmaceuticals if required.
Grams AE et al, Female pituitary size in relation to age and hormonal factors, Neuroendocrinology. 2010;92(2):128-32.
Wharton W et al, Oral contraceptives and androgenicity: influences on visuospatial task performance in younger individuals, Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2008 Apr;16(2):156-64.
De Groote D et al, Effects of oral contraception with ethinylestradiol and drospirenone on oxidative stress in women 18-35 years old, Contraception. 2009 Aug;80(2):187-93.
Irwin RW et al, Medroxyprogesterone acetate antagonizes estrogen up-regulation of brain mitochondrial function, Endocrinology. 2011 Feb;152(2):556-67.
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