Depression: Birth control pills may increase risk by 130%
- Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses and can have several debilitating symptoms.
- Researchers are still learning which factors contribute to depression risk.
- A recent study found that oral contraceptives may increase the risk of depression among adolescent and adult women, particularly in the first two years of use.
Research is ongoing into what factors influence a person’s risk of depression. Often the risk of depression involves a combination of internal and external factors. Modifying some risk factors might help minimize the risk of depression, making research into these risk factors critical.
Evidence suggests that oral contraceptive use may contribute to the risk of depression.
A recent study published in Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences found that women who use the birth control pill may have an increased risk of depression of up to 130%, particularly in the first two years of using oral contraceptives.
The researchers in this particular study wanted to understand how birth control pills, which typically affect hormones, may play a role in depression risk. The researchers note that previous studies in this area may be influenced by healthy user biases.
Some women may stop taking birth control pills due to mood changes; therefore, the data may underestimate the negative impact of oral contraceptive use.
The study was a population-based cohort study. The researchers looked at data from more than 264,000 women using data from the UK Biobank. Among these women, about 80% had used birth control pills at some point.
Researchers have examined how starting birth control pills and using hormonal birth control are associated with depression.
Based on their analysis, the researchers found that the first two years of birth control pill usewere associated with increased rates of depression compared with women who had never used oral contraceptives.
For women who had stopped taking birth control pills, there was still an increased risk of depression among women who had used birth control pills in their teens.
However, for adult women, they did not find an associated risk two years after stopping the birth control pill.
The researchers were also able to look at sibling pairs to gain insight into a possible causal relationship between taking birth control pills and depression. Data from this analysis indicated a possible causal relationship.
Dr. Ryan Sultan, a board-certified mental health physician and director of Integrative Psych who specializes in depression, who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today:
It is plausible that hormonal contraceptives may impact mental health as these drugs work by altering hormone levels, which can affect mood and emotional regulation.
Dr. Ryan Sultan
This study takes an important step in examining this association more closely, particularly in addressing the healthy user bias that can lead to underestimation of potential risks associated with OC [oral contraceptive] usage. However, it’s important to note that the increased risk, while statistically significant, is relatively small, added Dr. Sultan.
- Have a chronic medical condition
- Have a condition that affects the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease
- Experiencing severe trauma
- Have high levels of stress
While anyone can develop depression,
Ms Devishi Mittal, a clinical psychologist and sexual well-being therapist at Allo Health, who was not involved in the study, offered more insight into why women may have higher rates of depression.
There are several factors that contribute to this gender disparity, including biological, psychological, and social factors. In the case of women, hormonal fluctuations during their reproductive life stages, such as puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause, can affect their susceptibility to depression. Fluctuation in estrogen and progesterone levels during these phases has been linked to mood changes and increased vulnerability to depressive symptoms.
The study has fundamental limitations. First, the study relied on participants’ self-report on components such as when they started taking or stopped taking birth control pills and family history information. This introduces the risks of errors in memory recall. Residual confounding is a possibility.
There was also risk of bias in sample selection, as participants were from the UK Biobank. This biobank may include participants who are typically healthier than the general UK population and a disproportionate number of white participants.
The researchers also had limited data on the type of birth control pillparticipants used, so the data may not reflect all types of oral contraceptives currently on the market and has limited the ability to analyze specific data. The researchers lacked reliable data on stopping or restarting birth control pills between their first and last use. Finally, the researchers were only able to measure some covariates once.
While the study couldn’t fully determine the cause, the findings support a causal relationship based on their comparisons to the participants’ family members.
The findings point to a careful assessment of the risk of depression among people who are considering or currently taking birth control pills.
It is essential that women considering using oral contraceptives have open discussions with their healthcare professionals about their mental health history and any potential risks or benefits associated with hormonal medications. Healthcare professionals can help identify alternative contraceptive methods or suggest strategies to manage any adverse effects on mental health.
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