Unexpected upsides to hormonal birth control seem to get way less attention than potential risks, but here’s a benefit we shouldn’t let slip under the radar: Using hormonal contraception could help give you a better brain.
In a new study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, researchers Kelly Egan and Carey Gleason say the hormones in the pill et al. can improve women’s cognitive abilities in middle- and old-age — and the longer the use, the greater the effect.
For the study, Egan and Gleason looked at 261 “cognitively normal” Wisconsin women between the ages of 40 and 65. These women were given health history questionnaires along with a battery of neuropsychologic tests that analyzed things such as working memory, verbal ability and “visuo-spatial” skills (“the ability to understand visual representations and their spatial relationships,” according to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary).
The results showed that women who had used hormonal contraceptives at any time “performed significantly better” than those who hadn’t in both visuo-spatial ability and cognitive speed and flexibility. The longer a woman had been on hormonal birth control, the more significant the improved performance.
When women with a parental history of Alzheimer’s disease were excluded, the birth control using group also performed better on memory tests.
“These data provide preliminary evidence that hormonal contraceptive use may influence cognitive outcomes, even years after use is discontinued,” the researchers concluded. ”Further research is needed to … clarify the physiologic basis of this phenomenon.”
If you’re interested, you can read the whole study here.