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Neuroplasticity at work: Can the pill change women’s brains?

Posted Oct 01 2010 8:59am

Read this recent Scientific American article showing clearly how the brain can change based on our daily experiences and actions:

… a new study in the journal Brain Research demonstrates that […] birth control pills have structural effects on regions of the brain that govern higher-order cognitive activities

… 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? […] It appears that the brain, that sensitive organ replete with steroid receptors, reacts to its hormonal milieu with startling structural modifications.g

Comments: The study compared the brains of men, women cycling naturally and women taking the pill. Structural differences in specific areas were found a) between men’s and women’s brains, b) between the brains of women cycling naturally when observed at different moments of their cycle, and c) between the brains of women cycling naturally and those of women taking the pill. Overall the study points out that hormones can affect brain structures via neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change. Since no cognitive measures were used it is not possible to know whether any of these structural changes  alter our performance at all. There is no evidence so far as to whether these structural chances are bad or good.


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