Hormonal contraceptives have been legalized more than 50 years ago and are used by millions of women world-wide. However, while a lot of research has focused on health risks and emotional effects of hormonal contraceptives, the impact of hormonal contraceptives on women’s brains has hardly been investigated (Pletzer & Kerschbaum, 2014). We discovered the first evidence that hormonal contraceptives might alter a woman’s brain structure (Pletzer et al., 2010) and are now trying to fill this research gap by assessing how hormonal contraceptives impact brain structure, function and behaviour. In the line of this work, we were also the first to uncover that different types of hormonal contraceptives have different effects on brain structure (Figure 1) and that previous use of hormonal contraceptives may have lingering effects on brain structure (Figure 2) even in women who are not currently using hormonal contraceptives (for details see Pletzer et al., 2015).

 

Figure 1: Brain areas affected by androgenic (red) and anti-androgenic (green) hormonal contraceptives. The effects of anti-androgenic contraceptives increase with the duration of pill use.

 

Figure 2: Brain areas in which gray matter volumes correlate with the duration of previous pill use in women, who do not use hormonal contraceptives.