Since the first birth control pill was approved in 1960, tens of millions of people have used oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and regulate their periods. Many have been on the pill for decades. And yet, scientists know basically nothing about how birth control affects our brains.
We know plenty about the ways oral contraceptives can affect our physical health. Common side effects include headaches and dizziness, nausea, decreased libido, and breast tenderness. Many of these side effects are temporary and will go away as you continue to take the pill. Hormonal contraceptives can also sometimes (but rarely) cause more serious side effects like blood clots, heart attack, and stroke and are therefore generally not recommended for anyone who has a heart condition.
Even though mood swings are one of the most commonly reported side effects of hormonal birth control, there’s hardly any research into how the pill interacts with our brains. “There’s really very little research I’m aware of on this topic, despite the fact that the pill has been around for more than half a century,” Justin Lehmiller, PhD, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want, tells Health. “The studies that do exist tend to have quite small samples and aren’t well suited to determining cause and effect.” There’s so little research that Lehmiller doesn’t feel confident saying anything about birth control and the brain—except that we need more research.
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