New study marks question: Is birth control linked to depression?

Posted October 12

A new study is raising questions about whether depression in women is linked to birth control. (Deseret Photo)

A newly released study found a potential link between depression and hormonal contraceptive use among women, though experts are cautioning doctors and patients alike to be wary before overreacting to the results.

The study, titled "Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression," was recently published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal and stated that, among Danish women, some forms of contraception doubled their rate of depression, Life Site reported.

"Use of hormonal contraception, especially among adolescents, was associated with subsequent use of antidepressants and a first diagnosis of depression, suggesting depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use," reads the study abstract.

Among teenagers, there was apparently triple the rate of antidepressant prescriptions, with researchers finding that teen girls who use progestin-only pills are two times as likely to be on antidepressants than girls who take no birth control, according to the outlet.

In light of the fact that millions of women use hormonal contraception, researchers set out to clarify past curiosities about the possible impact that contraceptives could have on women's moods.

So, they decided to specifically explore any possible associations between contraception use, and depression or antidepressant usage.

"We have to realize among all the benefits, external hormones (also) may have side effects," study co-author, Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Copenhagen, said, according to Life Site. "And the risk of depression is one of them."

Researchers used data from girls and women aged 15 to 34 — data that came from Denmark's National Prescription Register and Psychiatric Central Research Register, bodies that keep medical records inside the country.

There were 1,061,997 women included in the data — people with no prior depression or psychiatric diagnosis who have also not been on antidepressants.

According to the abstract, data was collected from January 1995 through December 2013, and was analyzed from January 2016 through April 2016.

The study got specific when it came to various forms of birth control, finding, for instance, that women using NuvaRing and other vaginal rings were 60 percent more likely to be depressed or on antidepressants than women who took none.

Additionally, those who took the birth control shot were 175 percent more likely to be depressed, according to Mashable.

Past research has also questioned the potential impact of birth control on women, with a study published in the Human Brain Mapping journal in 2015 finding that birth control could alter a women's mood or even have an impact on her romantic choices, The Huffington Post reported.

Neuroscientists at UCLA examined 90 women, finding changes in the brain's lateral orbitofrontal cortex — which manages emotion and responses to rewards — and the posterior cingulate cortex, which controls inward thoughts; both areas were thinner than for women who used contraception.

As for the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, changes there could account for problems with depression that some women face, as The Huffington Post noted.

In the case of the most recent research on the matter, many women are speaking up to share their own experiences battling depression, though the study did note that there's still inadequate information available when it comes to exploring the association between depression and birth control.

And experts are warning to be careful before jumping to any conclusions about the study, with Dr. Nada Stotland, former president of the American Psychiatry Association, telling Psychiatric News that it is important for doctors to carefully consider the pros and cons before overreacting.

"Women, especially adolescents, who are not taking these contraceptives may instead experience anxiety about negotiating with partners or getting pregnant," she said. "We must take into account the importance of contraception as an important element of women’s overall health, including mental health."

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