Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Fresh Look at the Pill

By Michael Cook

If anabolic steroids are considered dangerous, why has so little research been done on the long-term safety of another steroid – the contraceptive pill?

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If there is one request by patients that is universally spurned by doctors, without any fear of being labelled paternalistic, it is for performance-enhancing steroids. Extensive research confirms that anabolic steroids damage the liver and the heart, among other problems.

If widespread steroid use is discouraged for men, why haven’t the neurological effects of the steroid-based contraceptive pill on women been studied just as thoroughly? After all, the pill is the principal artificial means for controlling population and is currently being used by 100 million women each year. This includes many girls who have just entered puberty. Its cumulative effect could have a significant impact upon society.

Until now, only the impact of steroids on men has been the focus of research because hormonal fluctuations during menstruation affected results when women were included in trials. There is less data, therefore, about the effect of steroids on women.

In a challenging article in the open source journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, three Austrian researchers argue – that 50 years after its introduction – it is time to assess what the chemistry of the pill does to the female brain.

Their survey of the literature suggests that the effects of the pill vary considerably with age and individual physiology. Finer-grained studies are needed to assess the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.