Women on the contraceptive pill could also be helping to stave off dementia later in life, according to new research.
A study in the US has found that middle-aged women who were on the pill for five years or more performed better on memory tests than those who have never taken it.
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Around 260 women aged between 40 and 65 were studied, with those on the daily contraceptive pill having a significantly better memory in tests – such as naming objects and listing words on a particular topic.
The findings come as reassuring news for those of us who have ever wondered exactly what the long term effect of taking daily hormones is.
The researchers have suggested it is in fact the main hormone in the pill – oestrogen – that’s behind the memory boost. It has the beneficial side effect of preventing blockages in arteries, which encourages blood flow to the brain.
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It also helps the growth of particular cells in the brain and spinal column. Similar benefits have been noticed in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which also works using oestrogen.
The pill in question is the more common ‘combined’ pill, which uses both oestrogen and progesterone to prevent pregnancy. The alternative form of the contraceptive, the ‘mini’ pill, which contains only progesterone, would not have the same benefits.
Lead researcher Kelly Egan, from the University of Wisconsin, explained that her analysis shows a strong link between taking the pill and better memory in middle age, and that this benefit increases with the length of time women take the pill for.
Various studies have linked the pill to other health benefits, including reducing bowel, womb and ovarian cancer risk and even promoting longer life. But others have suggested it slightly increases breast and cervical cancer risk.
To help you choose the right contraception for you, your GP will take into account your medical history and that of your family.