New Study Links Contraceptive Pills and Depression

New Study Links Contraceptive Pills and Depression

How does the pill mess with your mood?

According to a new study (1), women who began to use contraceptives as teenagers had a higher incidence of symptoms of depression compared to women who did not.

While this latest study is new, the effects of contraceptive use and the negative effects on mental health have long been discussed. The most recent study is one of the largest and widest-ranging to date, following more than a quarter million women from the UK from birth to menopause.

What is the correlation?

Contraceptive pills contain progestogen, a compound that resembles the hormone progesterone and oestrogen that mimics estrogen. Progestogen prevents ovulation and thickens the cervical mucus to prevent the sperm from entering the uterus, while oestrogen thins the uterine lining to hinder the implementation of a fertilized egg.

How does the pill mess with your mood?

First, not all women react to the contraceptive pill the same way. Some may have mild symptoms when starting the pill but subside in time. Others often stop taking the pill because of the negative effects on their mood. A lot of what happens with a women's propensity for experiencing depressive symptoms may also be attributed to the type of contraceptive pill taken.

Contraceptive pills may mess with your mood because of the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). These three systems work together to play a central role in the body's response to stress. Birth control pills may negatively impact the delicate balance of these systems, suppressing their activity and resulting in increased anxiety, depression, midday fatigue and even weight gain!

There is also evidence to suggest that birth control pills negatively affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. The most prevalent and frequently used by the brain is GABA. Your brain uses GABA to help slow down the excited neurons and create a sense of relaxation. Unfortunately, women on birth control pills do not seem to get the same benefit from GABA. Research suggests that women on the pill may have lower levels of natural sedatives such as GABA. When GABA receptors are not properly stimulated, a person feels anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed.

There is further evidence to suggest that while oestrogen (a compound in birth control pills) is protective of the brain and helps regulate the regions of the brain that are implicated in emotional and cognitive processing, the progesterone contained in the pill is not so protective and subsequently can decrease serotonin and worsen mood.  

Natural Supplements to manage the side effects of Contraceptives

Most women tolerate contraceptives very well without experiencing negative effects on mood, so they are still recommended options to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies. However, it is important to take note of the possible side effects of the pill and work with your healthcare provider to help manage them. Natural Supplements can play a pivotal role in helping women manage the side effects of birth control pills.

Balance the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). Dysregulation of the HPA axis can lead to unmanaged cortisol levels. Do not overlook the simplicity of a B complex to help regulate your central nervous system and your adrenal glands. Ashwagandha is one of the most sought-after and researched supplements to support your adrenal glands.

Give GABA a boost- Birth control pills may lower GABA production and decrease Serotonin production (the happy hormone). Consider taking a GABA supplement before bed to help calm over-excited neurons, promote sleep and relaxation.

Lower Inflammation – Some studies indicate that oral contraceptives can cause an increase in C-reactive Protein (the inflammatory markers that can contribute to muscle cramping, back pain and fatigue. Omega 3 supplements, as well as Curcumin in the absorbable form such as CurcumRich, can work wonders at reducing inflammation and its associated pain.

Increase Depleted Vitamins and Minerals- Birth control pills deplete vital nutrients such as folate, Vitamin B6, B2 and B12., magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Magnesium helps reduce cramping and muscle spasms and is required to regulate normal blood clotting.

Cleanse your liver- your liver helps to eliminate hormones no longer needed, including synthetic hormones from the pill. A sluggish liver can hinder elimination and mess with hormones, moods, and gut health. Dandelion root tea is an excellent addition to a daily routine, and the "Root" version has a pleasant taste too!  If you are suffering from bouts of anger or more aggressive mood swings, try Milk Thistle to help, give the liver a deeper cleanse and remove unused hormonal residue.

Pay Attention to Your Gut- Birth control pills can disrupt the gut's normal flora, causing an imbalance of beneficial bacteria. Oestrogen (in birth control) slows down the movement of the gut, causing bloating, constipation, and discomfort. And since mood modulators are contained in the gut, keeping the good and bad bacteria in check is a must to keep the happy serotonin hormone flowing. Try a full spectrum probiotic to keep good bacteria in and bad bacteria in check

A Danish study on more than one million women found a higher risk of depression for all types of hormonal contraception across all age groups, with the largest risk among adolescents (Skovlund et al., Reference Skovlund, Mørch, Kessing and Lidegaard2016)

Swedish study on 800,000 women found a positive association between hormonal contraceptive use and the use of any type of psychotropic drug but only among adolescents (Zettermark et al., Reference Zettermark, Perez Vicente and Merlo2018).

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