Steroid Birth Control Pills Affect Brain Structure

Leslie Carol Botha: A colleague just sent this article to me.  Timing is everything.  The article raises good points – Lance Armstrong along with other athletes have been damned for taking steroids to enhance their athletic performance. But then we calmly accept the suppression of ovulation and the suppression of millions of women who are on synthetic hormone steroids.  How can women be at their peak when their neuro-endo-immune system is being altered?

Millions of women on steroid birth control pills?  Now that is a frightening thought.  No wonder women are suffering from synthetic hormone withdrawal experiencing anxiety, depression, weight gain. BTW – although this article refers to the birth control pill – it really addresses every synthetic hormone drug/steroid on the market – IUD’s, patches, implants and injections.  And to think that girls are being put on steroids at a younger and younger age.

Women’s Brains on Steroids
Birth control pills appear to remodel brain structure

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
By Craig H. Kinsley and Elizabeth A. Meyer
September 28, 2010

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Image: fotografstockholm

It seems that weekly we hear about some professional athlete who sullies himself and his sport through abuse of steroids. The melodrama unfolds, careers and statistics are brought low and asterisked, and everyone bemoans another fallen competitor.  Yet there are millions of cases of steroid use that occur daily with barely a second thought:  Millions of women take birth control pills, blithely unaware that their effects may be subtly seeping into and modulating brain structure and activity.

It is a huge experiment whose resolution will not be known for a while, but a new study in the journal Brain Research demonstrates that the effects are likely to be dramatic.  It found that birth control pills have structural effects on regions of the brain that govern higher-order cognitive activities, suggesting that a woman on birth control pills may literally not be herself — or is herself, on steroids.

The human brain is a remarkable structure, not least because of its seemingly infinite capacity for change, adapting millisecond by millisecond.  Indeed, a structure with tens of billions of neurons, each of which has the ability to elaborate and branch and become more complex, while changing its activity in the process, is the very definition of change.  This so-called neuroplasticity is a hallmark of the nervous system.  It can, however, be augmented, boosted, by artificial means, and if we are not careful, the brain may go all catawampus.

Steroid hormones, which are excreted by endocrine organs such as testes and ovaries, flow in abundance throughout the bloodstream, reach target organs and structures, and exert powerful effects on them.  To wit, the cock’s comb, the buck’s antlers, the lion’s mane, the blood-engorged uterus.

What of the mammal’s nervous system?  It turns out that the brain is a veritable sponge for steroid hormones.  In the male, the androgen testosterone (or a metabolite) binds to brain receptors and sculpts that structure into the aggression-promoting, sex-craving, risk-taking regulator with which we are all familiar.  By the same token, the comparative lack of androgen hormones in the female produces the kinder, gentler, softer neural substrate that distinguishes itself from the male by dint of its vastly different behavioral repertoire.

Whereas the subtle structural effects of naturally-occurring steroid hormones and sex differences in the brain have been extensively studied, few studies have examined the role of synthetic hormones on changes in the human brain.  What happens, then, when the female brain gets a significant and artificial dose of steroid hormone, either progesterone, estrogen or both?  We know what happens below the waist, the pregnancies prevented.  What happens above the neck, as this steroidal tsunami washes over the neural coastline?

Read full article…