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Several studies have shown that women are more likely to experience stress and are more prone to depression and anxiety, as compared to men. But it is thought that women are better at managing stress than men, courtesy hormone oxytocin. This is a feel-good hormone that is known to induce anti-stress-like effects, such as lowering cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone) and blood pressure. But taking birth control pills affect a woman's ability to regulate stress, revealed a new study.
The research team from Aarhus University and the United States studied the stress response of two groups of young women, one group included women who were on birth control pills. Specifically, they measured the levels of the stress hormone ACTH in the women's blood. ACTH changes significantly faster than cortisol during a stressful situation, hence it is easier to analyse rapid changes in stress response.
After 15 minutes of social activity, stress hormone levels reduced in women who are not on the birth-control pill, but no reduction of the hormone levels was seen in those who use birth control pills.
Being around people is one of the most effective ways to beat stress, said Michael Winterdahl, one of the study authors.
The women in the study participated in different group activities, including playing board games, a group session, singing together, or a church service.
However, despite participating in the social activity, women using birth control pills do not experience the same reduction in stress hormone levels as those who do not use the hormone-laden pill.
There have been studies that suggested birth control pills affect the stress response in women. However, this is the first study that looked at the ACTH hormone, which acts as a neurotransmitter from the brain to the adrenal cortex, which produces cortisol.
With his new approach, Michael believed that they take another step towards understanding how the brain regulates stress.
The researchers are not clear why birth control pill users do not experience the same reduction in ACTH levels in connection with social activities as women who do not use the pill. But they assume that pills can suppress the production of progesterone, which has a calming effect. This can have a negative influence on the stress response.
Additionally, it is known that birth control pills can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
However, they stressed the need for more research to better understand the correlation between hormone levels and the stress response, and the complex mechanisms involved in it.