.- For the millions of women using hormonal birth control, side effects are nothing new.
Headaches, mood swings and weight gain are all commonly reported side effects, not to mention more serious problems such as blood clots and migraines.
But a new, long-term Danish study is now showing a strong connection between hormonal contraception and another adverse effect: the risk of depression, particularly among teens.
“Use of hormonal contraception, especially among adolescents, was associated with subsequent use of antidepressants and a first diagnosis of depression, suggesting depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use,” stated a Sept. 28 online publication of the Danish Sex Hormone Register Study.
From 2000-2013, more than 1 million women in Denmark were observed for the study, with ages ranging from 15-34. These women came from different backgrounds, with various levels of education and body mass index. They used a range of birth control methods, including IUDs, the pill, patches, and the vaginal ring.
Following these subjects, the study tracked the women’s birth control prescriptions, as well as subsequent antidepressant prescriptions or depression diagnoses. Women included in the study had no previous diagnosis of depression and did not have a history of using antidepressants.
Over the years, the study ultimately drew a clear connection between the use of hormonal birth control and an increased risk of depression, but not all women reacted in the same way.
Although hormonal contraception via devices, like a patch, seemed to have a higher risk than pills, the study overall found that the “use of all types of hormonal contraceptives was positively associated with a subsequent use of antidepressants and a diagnosis of depression.”
In addition, 15-19 year-old teens using a birth control device were shown at a higher risk – about three times more likely – of receiving antidepressant medication compared to the older age groups.
“Adolescent women who used hormonal contraception experienced higher risks than women in general,” the study noted.
The researchers did state that teenage users of progestin-only contraception more frequently use antidepressants compared to non-users, suggesting a connection between depression and synthetic hormones.
The Danish researchers speculate that the use of birth control more adversely affects teens because their brains are still in a crucial developmental stage. Synthetic hormones, such as progestin found in birth control, might be causing havoc in the molding of younger bodies, but experts have yet to find out the exact connection.
“This finding could be influenced by attrition of susceptibility, but also that adolescent girls are more vulnerable to risk factors for depression,” the study stated.
Although it would be hard to definitively state that birth control causes depression, the study did find a strong link between the long-term use of hormonal contraception and the first time use of antidepressants.
“Assessment of the association between the duration of use and the risk for first use of antidepressants demonstrated increasing relative risks with length of use,” the study noted.
“A total of 133,178 first prescriptions of antidepressants and 23,077 first diagnoses of depression were detected during follow-up,” the study found, adding that this number was not reflective of the depressed individuals who did not receive medication.
Moving forward, the study suggested that both women and doctors become aware of these findings and pay particular attention to any mood changes.
“Health care professionals should be aware of this relatively hitherto unnoticed adverse effect of hormonal contraception.”
Birth control has increasingly come under fire in recent years, as science continues to indicate that the high levels of artificial hormones contained within many forms of contraception have negative consequences.
Other recent studies on hormonal birth control have shown that it may be responsible for an increase in breast cancer risk, and that it may change a woman’s biological preference in picking a compatible mate.
The Catholic Church teaches that the use of contraception is immoral because it tries to separate the sexual act from its natural possibility of procreation.
If a married couple faces a just reason to avoid pregnancy, the Church teaches that they may do so through Natural Family Planning, a process that works with a woman’s natural fertile cycles and abstaining from sexual activity during the times that she is fertile.
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