Can Contraceptive Pills Boost Your Brain’s Power?

Birth control pills

So, everyone knows that contraceptive pills can effectively prevent pregnancy. But did you know these pills also might enhance verbal and recognition memory?

We’ve all heard about the negative side effects of birth control pills. Women have experienced yucky side effects, such as mood swings, acne, and unwanted hair growth. (I must admit that I’m one of the lucky women. I have never experienced any of the formerly listed birth control pill side effects. Perhaps it’s because I’m taking one of the more modern pills that “exert anti-androgenic effects.” More on that…) But now, those negative side effects may become overshadowed by some possible positive side effects.

New research from the University of Salzberg (paired with research that emerged a few years ago) shows that oral contraceptive users “had larger volumes of gray matter” in their brain.

While the study from a few years ago didn’t account for androgenic activity, or control for age difference, the Salzberg study did:

“…the University of Salzberg enrolled 60 women into a new study. 20 of the participants were naturally cycling, i.e. not taking oral contraceptives (OCs), 18 were using OCs containing androgenic progestins, and 22 were taking OCs containing anti-androgenic progestins.”

Brain Research reported that after controlling for age, the study’s MRI scans showed that “women using anti-androgenic progestins had significantly larger gray matter volumes in several brain regions when compared with naturally cycling women.” The areas of the brain that were positively affected included the hippocampus (this area of the brain helps with learning and memory) and the fusiform face area (helps with facial recognition). The research also found that the longer the women used contraceptive pills, the more gray matter they developed. The women that took the androgenic progestins had smaller gray matter volumes. This number was compared with naturally cycling women.

The study also discovered that the women taking the anti-androgenic progestins performed significantly better in a facial recognition test than members of the other two groups in the test.

While this study isn’t perfect (the study was limited — small sample size, etc.) the study’s findings are still quite interesting.

Does this study change the way you think about modern contraceptive pills? Let us know in the comment section.

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Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.