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Oral contraceptive use as teenager linked to depression as an adult, study says

Published on 29/08/19 at 09:52am

Women who have used oral contraceptives as teenagers are more likely to experience depression later in life, according to a study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

In a study of 1,236 women from the United States, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that women who had either never used oral contraceptives or had only started using them as an adult were less likely to experience major depressive disorder (MDD) than those women who had used oral contraceptives during adolescence.

The relationship between adolescent use of oral contraceptives and depression was apparent even when factors including the age at which women first had sex, and current use of oral contraceptives were taken  into account. The relationship also remained stable when ethnicity, relationship status and socio-economic status were taken into account.  

The study, which looked at women aged between 20 and 39 from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found 16% of women who had taken oral contraceptives experienced depression, compared to 6% of those who had never taken the pill and 9% for those who had only taken oral contraceptives as adults.

The authors suggest that adolescence may be a particularly sensitive period during which exposure to oral contraceptives could increase risk of depression in years to come. Still, the authors noted that their study was correlational and therefore does not prove that the pill causes depression, as another variable could explain the link.

The Canadian researchers now hope to track several hundred teenager’s hormone levels, hormonal contraceptive use, social and emotional functioning and stress reactivity over the next three to five years, in an attempt to look at the problem in greater depth.  

The findings comes after a study of one million women in Denmark found women who used oral contraceptives were more likely to use antidepressants and be diagnosed with depression.

Louis Goss

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