November 21, 2012
Long-Term Use of Contraceptives Benefits Cognition
in Older Women

Madison, WI—Hormonal contraceptives do more than prevent pregnancy, relieve menstrual cramps, or control acne in premenopausal women. They also may improve cognitive abilities of women in midlife and for years after, according to a recent study.

Furthermore, the beneficial effects of premenopausal contraceptives increase the longer a woman uses them, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Women’s Health.

Noting that previous studies had shown some protective advantage of hormones, specifically estrogen, on cognitive ability, researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, both in Madison, Wisconsin, sought to learn more about that effect.

Noting the increasing incidence of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, the authors write, “There is an urgent need for research focused on earlier recognition and prevention of these degenerative diseases in addition to continued efforts to develop new treatment strategies.”

For the study, health history questionnaires and a battery of neuropsychologic tests were administered to 261 cognitively normal women, aged 40 to 65, enrolled in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention.

Women who had used hormonal contraceptives performed significantly better than women who had never used them in visuo-spatial ability (µ=0.75, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.23-1.28, P = 0.005) and speed & flexibility (µ=0.52, 95% CI −0.16-1.04, P = 0.007). Performance increased with duration of contraceptive usage, especially among those who had been on the pills for 15 years or longer.

“This study provides preliminary evidence that hormonal contraceptives may have a protective cognitive effect, even years after use is discontinued,” said Susan G. Kornstein, MD, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women’s Health, executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women's Health in Richmond, Virginia, and president of the Academy of Women’s Health.

The study authors add, “Our analysis indicated that hormonal contraceptive use may have a protective cognitive effect, even years after use is discontinued. This is especially true in subjects with a longer duration of use.”

They caution, however, that larger, more focused clinical studies are needed to determine cause and effect relationships of the phenomenon.

U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect