Researchers from the University of Quebec in Montreal have identified a potential association between the use of combined oral contraceptives (COCs) and alterations in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a brain region involved in fear processing. The study, encompassing 139 women and 41 men aged 23 to 35, utilized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine brain regions associated with fear and measured natural and synthetic sex hormone levels in participants’ saliva.
The findings revealed that women currently using COCs exhibited a thinner vmPFC compared to men, suggesting a reversible physiological change. However, the study emphasized that these associations do not imply negative effects on brain function or behavior.
The research sheds light on the potential impact of synthetic hormones on emotion regulation in women, particularly in fear-related contexts. Despite the reversible nature of the observed changes, the study underscores the need for further exploration into the long-term effects of COC use on brain structure and function.
The researchers advocate for increased awareness of the potential effects of oral contraceptives on the brain, highlighting the importance of addressing the underrepresentation of women in research studies to enhance our understanding of sex-specific vulnerabilities to psychopathologies.