Your Birth Control Might Have This Weird Effect On Your Mind, According To Science

by Julia Guerra

Why did you opt out of your last pack of birth control? The question is more common than you’d think. With all the potential side effects that come along with BC, it can be tricky to find the right hormonal contraception that works for your body. Personally, I decided to ditch the pill after multiple packs left me feeling nauseous the second I’d swallow it down, but now science is saying birth control can affect your mood just as much as it can affect your body, and I can only imagine what that must feel like. If it’s anything like PMS brain fog, only over the course of an entire month rather than just a few days, count me out.

Now that I think about it, I definitely remember complaining to my husband that birth control made me feel "off," and not just because I was constantly queasy. Of course, this was just my experience, but personally, I was never in a great mood on hormonal birth control, and I couldn't help but notice that, once I stopped taking the pill, I felt so much better. So when I came across this new study in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, which suggested that oral contraception can potentially affect a woman’s mood, it felt like things finally made perfect sense, given what I experienced.

As per PsyPost, in order to explore the connection between mood and birth control, researchers from the University of Montreal looked at how oral contraceptives affected the brains of otherwise healthy women by comparing 28 women who were taking BC at the time, with 14 women in the second half of their natural menstrual cycle (aka women who were not on BC), as well as 29 men. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 35, and none had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or taken antidepressants.

The results, study author Catherine Raymond told PsyPost, showed that the women in the research who were using oral contraception, when compared to those who were not, were experiencing poor attention span, as well as "increased mind wandering frequency," and as a result, Raymond explained, these women could potentially be more vulnerable to mental health disorders. She told the outlet,

Given previous studies showing that mind wandering can [lead to] increased cognitive vulnerability to mood disorders, our results suggest that an increase in the frequency of mind wandering in [oral contraception] users could serve as a marker of risk for depressive disorder in women.

So what exactly is it about BC that's making some women feel this strange sense of brain fog, and causing the mind to wander more than it should?

In a word, hormones. According to IVF and fertility nurse Suzie Welsh, founder of the women’s health subscription service, BINTO, there are so many different birth control pills on the market, and each one uses different doses and combinations of hormones. “Because the pill is made up of the steroid sex hormones estrogen and progesterone,” Welsh tells Elite Daily over email, “it’s not unlikely that this combination of hormones will have an impact on your brain — thus leading to mood swings and anxiety.”

Progesterone is a key word here, says Amy Beckley, Ph.D., chief executive officer of MFB Fertility Inc. and creator of the first at-home progesterone test, ProovTest. She adds that, in order to serve its purpose, your birth control pill works to decrease the progesterone in your system to prevent ovulation. The problem, though, Beckley tells Elite Daily, is that progesterone is recognized as a “happy” hormone, meaning the less you have, the more susceptible you are to feelings of depression and anxiety. See the connection here?

In other words, taking birth control that suppresses your body’s natural progesterone levels could potentially result in mood swings, and sometimes even more serious mental health issues.

Keep in mind, though, that this particular study is preliminary, and the conclusion was based on a very small group of participants, so you should take the findings with a pretty big grain of salt. However, there's obviously some truth to these results, and if you're currently experiencing mood swings, mind wandering, and/or any other related symptoms, you can take some comfort in the fact that there are alternatives you can look into, if you and your doctor decide that that is what's best for your well-being.

For example, Dr. Beth Donaldson, medical director and family physician at Copeman Healthcare Centre, tells Elite Daily that, before you decide to switch anything in terms of medication, a good place to start is to reassess the basics: the types of foods you’re eating, if you’re getting enough quality sleep, how often you’re exercising, and your caffeine/alcohol intake — aka all the lifestyle choices and behaviors that can potentially affect an otherwise healthy brain.

If you still continue to struggle after addressing these factors, Beckley says it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about switching to a different type of contraception. “Birth control methods such as copper IUDs and condoms do not prevent ovulation," she explains, "and do not have this negative effect on mood.”