Could the Pill be sabotaging your success?

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https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health

Hormonal contraceptives such as the Pill could be sabotaging women’s success, a study suggests.

Women were found to give up quicker than those who were not on contraceptives when presented with both simple and difficult problem solving tasks.

This in turn caused them to score worse, and it could have implications for their performance at school, college and work, the researchers at Texas Christian University said.

Previous research has shown a link between hormonal contraception and altered brain function in areas responsible for motivation, emotion and attention.

PhD candidate Hannah Bradshaw and colleagues set out to explore how hormonal contraceptives affect perseverance on tasks using the brain.

Studies show the ability to persevere, even if a task is challenging, can predict a person’s success in many areas of life.

However, evidence is emerging the hormonal contraceptives may negatively affect this trait.

Ms Bradshaw said:  ‘A growing body of research suggests that HC use may be associated with important structural and functional differences in brains areas important for executive function and the cognitive control of behaviour.

‘Research suggests that HC use may also have effects on women’s brain structure and function.’

The team recruited college students from a university in southern US. It compared women who had either been using a HC for two months, or off them for at least three months.

The first study asked 149 women, of which 73 were on HCs, to do a simple ‘spot the difference’ task using an image from the film Frozen.

Naturally cycling women who were not on HCs spent significantly more time on the task than women on HCs, 81 seconds compared with 67 seconds.

Analysis showed that women on HCs performed worse because they gave up quicker, the researchers said.

The second study, consisting of 175 female undergraduates, 89 of whom were on HCs, involved more challenging tasks.

First, women had to solve eight mathematical tasks with the help of a calculator.

Results show naturally-cycling women spent 97 seconds on the task compared with women on HCs who spent 78 seconds on it, who also performed worse.

Next, women unscrambled jumbled letters – an anagram – to make words. Some were ‘fake’ because they were unsolvable.

In both the real and fake anograms, women who did not take HCs spent more time trying to figure them out.

The researchers said timing how long participants took on each task relative to how well they scored was a measure of their perseverance.

Concluding their findings, the authors wrote: ‘These results suggest that HC use may affect women’s perseverance on simple and challenging tasks.’

The study did not attempt to uncover why HCs may alter cognitive performance, but Ms Bradshaw and colleagues suggested some reasons based on previous research.

HC users have been shown to have decreased connectivity in the brain’s executive control network, responsible for paying attention, organising and planning, initiating tasks, regulating emotions and keeping self-control.

Additionally, oestrogen levels, which are generally lower for HC users, are found to play a key role in hippocampal function, also involved in emotion control as well as motivation.

The authors said: ‘While additional research in humans is needed to evaluate these possible mechanisms, the current results provide compelling evidence that differences in perseverance during cognitive tasks exist between women who take HCs and those that are naturally-cycling, which can lead to decrements in performance.

‘It is, however, important to note that HC use can also aid in women’s educational attainment by allowing them to prevent unintended pregnancies, which can be an insurmountable barrier for those who wish to further their education.’

Approximately three million women in the UK take the contraceptive pill, and a further 11million women in the US use hormonal contraceptives.

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