Taking an oral contraceptive pill (usually just referred to as "The Pill") is a common way to prevent pregnancy, even though some brands have been in short supply lately. While most users will already be pretty clued up on the possible side effects, new research may have just unearthed another, related to mental health.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, found that hormonal contraceptive use could "aggravate existing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and influence the response to pharmacologic treatment". It also said that out of the 54 women tested, those who were taking oral contraception were less responsive to exposure therapy (in this specific case they were receiving treatment for a spider phobia).
The reasoning for this? Researchers write that it could be due to increased levels of oestrogen affecting the way that the body rids itself of the feeling of fear. “Considerable evidence from human and animal studies suggests that oestrogen mediates the amount and rate of fear extinction learning and its later recall. Oral contraceptives may interfere with these processes due to suppressing endogenous oestrogen secretion, thus leading to impaired fear extinction.”
Obviously this instance is quite specific (and the study is a very small one), but in theory, with more research the findings could be applied to broader therapies, and the wider population.
In order to reach this conclusion, the study asked the 54 women (28 of whom were on the pill) to record how they felt about spiders before and after the exposure therapy - which saw them approach a spider trapped in a glass. All participants said they'd improved to some degree, but those using oral contraceptives did to a lesser extent.
Of course, more research still needs to be done on the topic of the pill and it's impact on anxieties, phobias and fear – so don't go chucking all your contraception away just yet.
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