Taking the pill may make teen girls more impulsive, warns a new study.
Hormonal contraceptives taken by adolescents may influence the development of the brain in a way that alters the recognition of risks, making teens more impulsive.
Ohio State behavioral neuroscientists say it’s important to understand the pill’s effects on the developing brain so individuals can weigh the risks and benefits of their reproductive health choices.
To find their results the team studied female rats after being supplied with estrogen and progesterone.
Professor Benedetta Leuner said: “We start the rats on hormonal contraceptives as soon as they go through puberty and give them throughout adolescence, and then do behavioral tasks at the cusp of adulthood.
“By the end of adolescence, impulsivity shouldn’t be as much of a thing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case – which, while highly speculative, suggests hormonal contraceptives might be stalling brain maturation.”
In behavior tests of threat appraisal, the rats given hormonal contraceptives were more likely to remain in wide-open elevated spaces and sample treats in unfamiliar settings – both considered risk-taking behavior.
The study also found traces of these synthetic hormones in the rat’s brain tissue, being the first study to have detected this.
Professor Leuner added: “We now know that these synthetic hormones are actually getting to the brain, which is important. No one had ever shown that in adolescence.”
Because synthetic hormones in contraceptives dampen ovaries’ production of natural estrogen and progesterone, the team is looking at how those hormonal differences affect the brain while it is still developing.
The study, by Ohio State University, was presented at Neuroscience 2023.
Professor Kathryn Lenz said: “Synaptic development and myelination are occurring during this adolescent window and are sensitive to pubertal onset of hormones.
“So we thought that disturbance of that normal pubertal hormonal activity could potentially shift the trajectory of some of those developmental processes.
“Shifts in either one or the other direction for both is really important to document and understand.”
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