Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, released findings of a study that revealed women who use combined oral contraceptive pills were at a greater risk of depression. Combined contraceptive pills utilize both progestogen, which prevents ovulation and prevents sperm from entering the uterus, and estrogen, which thins the uterine lining to prevent implantation. The study followed over 264,000 UK women from birth to menopause, taking note of when the women were first diagnosed with depression when they began experiencing symptoms prior to diagnosis, and about their use of contraceptive pills. The study found that teenage girls were particularly at risk for experiencing depression after they began using contraceptive pills, with women who began taking the pills when they were teens having a 130 percent higher incident rate of symptoms of depression. Women who began taking the pills as adults were 92 percent higher. Therese Johansson of the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University, one of the leading researchers of the study, postulated that the increased risk in teens was due to hormonal changes. “The powerful influence of contraceptive pills on teenagers can be ascribed to the hormonal changes caused by puberty. As women in that age group have already experienced substantial hormonal changes, they can be more receptive not only to hormonal changes but also to other life experiences,” she said.

The research found that the risk to women who started the pills was highest in the first two years of use, with rates of incidence declining afterward. Those who began using as teens, however, continued to see a higher incidence, even after they stopped using the pills. Adult users did not experience the same problem. Johansson stressed that the findings did not detract from the benefits of contraceptive pills. “It is important to emphasize that most women tolerate external hormones well without experiencing negative effects on their mood, so combined contraceptive pills are an excellent option for many women. Contraceptive pills enable women to avoid unplanned pregnancies, and they can also prevent illnesses that affect women, including ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. However, certain women may have an increased risk of depression after starting to use contraceptive pills,” she said. She did stress that doctors need to make their patients aware of the risks. The study also did not investigate other methods, such as mini-pills (which only have one hormone) and IUDs. Johansson stated she hopes a further study will look at other methods in order to inform women about their best birth control choices.

Speaking to Fox News DigitalDr. Marc Siegel, stated more work had to be done before drawing concrete conclusions. “We still don’t know if it is due to chemical or metabolic effects of the hormone changes and effects on the brain or could it be partly due to associated lifestyle changes in those who are on these pills,” he said. Studies have shown that teens on birth control are more likely to be sexually active. Other studies have shown a link between teenage sex and higher incidents of depression. “[It] needs a double-blinded prospective randomized trial to confirm,” said Siegel about the study, “but [it] looks likely that the pills do increase depression risk significantly.”      

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