When a teenage girl presents seeking her first oral contraceptive pill (OCP) script, what information is she privy to that enables her to make an informed decision? Read the insert inside the box? Please. Which 50 year old, let alone 15 year old does that? Forget it! What might her doctor tell her? Perhaps about clotting risk, as part of their determination of the suitability of this form of contraception for her but is there any discussion about the potential for adverse mood effects? A recent study of over 1,000 teenage girls followed over more than a decade adds to other evidence that suggests this should be flagged as a consideration prior to the prescription being written.
Most integrative health practitioners not only know about the potential negative impact on mood from OCP use in women but we’ve observed firsthand the havoc it has wreaked in some teenage girls’ and women’s lives.
A very experienced practitioner I know says, ‘if I am hearing mood instability and then I see a significantly elevated serum copper and or cortisol in these girls that’s when I just say to have to say to them, you know I don’t think this is the best contraception for you!’
This latest study did not find higher rates of depression across all OCP users in this group of 16-25 year olds but when they looked at this at different ages they found its use increased depression scores and was associated specifically with more crying, eating problems and hypersomnia. The discussion around the enhanced vulnerability at this younger age compared with older girls centres on the relative immaturity of their CNS. But wait, I hear you critical thinking clinicians ask, perhaps those teenage girls had more depressive features prior to starting the OCP. Good thinking 99! And the answer is…maybe…but the relationship goes both ways: from the related Medscape Continuing Medical Educational Activity
“For 16-year-old girls, the association was weakened after adjusting for depressive symptoms before use of OCPs, but the findings remained significant. This suggests that the relationship between OCP use and depressive symptoms could be bidirectional…For instance, 16-year-old OCP users were more sexually active and had more stressful events, as well as more menstruation-related pain and acne, than their counterparts in the nonuser group. Analyses showed that all these factors weakened the association, although none diminished it.”
The commentary surrounding this latest study is essentially 1) this is not the first study to find an association and others have been more able to demonstrate that COCP use predated the mood disorder in those affected and 2) those exhibiting higher depressive scores did not actually score strongly for anhedonia or sadness which are the most typical features in adult depression – so perhaps we are missing some of these negatively impacted young women. Awareness regarding reproductive psychology is rapidly growing and in Australia we are fortunate to have emerging hubs to seek help and specialist advice in this area, such as the important work of Professor Jayashri Kulkarni and colleagues out of the Women’s Mental Health Clinic. I’ve referred patients, both when a patient’s mental health appears to be caused or aggravated by use of hormonal agents but which they can’t not use for various reasons and for those small number of women in whom I feel hormonal management may in fact offer a psychiatric solution. So again I am asking, while we know & mainstream medicine increasingly knows about this association…who’s telling these young women?
How many of your clients are on a combination OCP? Do you know the full extent of the physiological impact as a result and are you able to identify to key pathology indicators of the size of that impact?
We’re all aware that in theory OCP use correlates with a range of elevated risks but in reality many females will make the decision that the pros, in terms of contraception or control of acne etc., outweigh the cons. What if we could provide more individualised advice by looking to their pathology results and identifying and quantifying specific danger signs for each individual? This approach enables us to better support patients who chose this form of contraception and to accurately identify those that should be be encouraged to find other safer options more biochemically suited to them. Learn more here.