Depression and increased cancer risk: 6 Reasons not to take birth control pills
10/20/2019 // Darnel Fernandez // Views

Birth control pills have grown in popularity over the years and are now widespread in usage. While the importance of reproductive health should be recognized, research has shown that these pills can leave unwanted side effects. Now, a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that oral contraceptives can now affect social judgment, adding to the growing list of adverse side effects these pills can bring.

Contraceptives impair women’s emotion recognition

While oral contraceptives have been considered one of the best-studied drugs in the history of medicine, very little is known about their psychological and behavioral effects.

"More than 100 million women worldwide use oral contraceptives, but remarkably little is known about their effects on emotion, cognition, and behavior," said study senior author Dr. Alexander Lischke of the University of Greifswald, Germany.

Previous research has shown that women using contraception were significantly more depressed than those who don't. However, further studies said that the link between depression and contraceptive use remains unclear. (Related: Birth control pills increase risk of depression in women.)

Researchers from Germany investigated the effects of oral contraceptive use on women's emotion recognition. Forty-two oral contraceptive users and 53 non-users were tasked to do an emotion recognition test that required them to identify expressions based on subtle facial cues.

The results showed that oral contraceptive users were less accurate in emotion recognition than non-users.


"Whereas the groups were equally good at recognizing easy expressions, the oral contraceptive users were less likely to correctly identify difficult expressions," said Lischke in a statement.

The team suggested that future studies should extend and replicate their findings to determine even more possibilities for positive and negative consequences of contraceptive use.

More than meets the eye

Unfortunately, affecting social judgment is only one of the many side effects that come with taking oral contraceptives. Here are five other common effects and risk factors of birth control pills:

Headaches and migraines

Fluctuations in hormone levels caused by the menstrual cycle can trigger headaches, including migraines. People who experience this usually take birth control pills that contain hormones like estrogen to even out their hormones.

However, hormonal birth control is usually taken as active pills for three weeks and inactive for one week. During this week of inactivity, the sudden drop in estrogen levels can cause headaches and migraines.

Decreased sex drive

Hormonal birth control uses hormones to stop ovulation. However, this also inhibits the production of androgens like testosterone in the ovaries. These androgens play a key role in sexual desire and satisfaction.

Additionally, birth control pills also increase the amount of sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) in the body. This protein binds to testosterone, preventing them from circulating the body. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people who use oral contraceptives had four times the amount of SHBG in the body compared to non-users.

Weight gain

Numerous studies have found no definitive evidence to support the association between oral contraceptives and weight change. However, these pills encourage water retention which could lead to temporary weight gain.

Increased cancer risk

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that birth control can increase the risk of breast cancer by up to 38 percent, depending on the intake.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen analyzed the data of 1.8 million women under the age of 50 in Denmark.  From their analysis, they saw a nine percent increase in breast cancer risk among women in only under a year of taking oral contraceptives, rising up to 38 percent by the 10-year mark.

"Our results suggest a rapid disappearance of excess risk of breast cancer after discontinuation of use among women who have used hormonal contraceptives for short periods whereas the risk among women who have used these contraceptives for longer periods may persist for at least 5 years after discontinuation," the researchers wrote.

Increased risk of heart disease

While birth control pills do not directly cause heart disease, they do increase a woman's blood pressure. This alone is not enough to be a major concern, but it can increase the risk of congenital heart diseases if one already has other risk factors associated with heart disease like obesity and smoking.

As previously mentioned, reproductive health is something that should be more recognized. Being more educated about the adverse effects of birth control pills can help impose less of a risk to the physical and mental health of women everywhere.

Sources include: 1 2

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