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Are Birth Control Pills Shrinking Your Brain?

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Your birth control might be shrinking your brain, according to the results of a shocking new study in the journal Human Brain Mapping. But before you throw your pill pack in the trash, know there's something else that shrinks your brain too: pregnancy. Hormones are the culprit in both cases, says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Don't freak out—the news may not be as scary as it sounds.

Researchers from the University of California found that women taking oral birth control pills had a thinner cortex (the outer layer of the brain) in two areas associated with controlling emotions, making decisions, and responding to rewards. (This loss could explain the reactions—like anxiety, depression, and mental fog—some women report when going on the pill.)

While brain shrinkage may sound like the zombie apocalypse has arrived, our brains may be more malleable than we think. A study published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology found that a surge in hormones during pregnancy caused similar brain shrinkage—but that effect reversed itself within six months of delivery.

Plus, this study didn't show exactly what the effects of brain shrinkage were and whether or not they negatively impacted a woman's life. "If you're on the Pill, there is no need to worry or change your contraception just yet," she says. "In this particular study, there were an extremely small number of women tested. And no real conclusions can be made from this study on how the pill affects these critical behavioral changes, including memory and IQ."

Ultimately, deciding what type of contraceptive to use is a personal decision. But Ross adds that if you have a history of mental illness, mood disorders, or are just concerned about your mental health on the Pill, consulting with a psychiatrist or psychologist can help you find a type of birth control that you're comfortable with.

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