Women take birth control pills for various health problems: endometriosis, painful menstrual cramps and, of course, to prevent pregnancy. But perhaps birth control could also have preventative effects against an unlikely condition: Alzheimer's disease. In a study published in the Journal of Women's Health, researchers found that women who had taken birth control scored higher on cognitive tests than women who had never taken birth control - and these effects could be seen for years after the women had stopped taking the Pill.
Hormone therapy has been the focus of much scrutiny by researchers, particularly after menopause. In order to help with some of the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, some doctors prescribe hormone therapy. The practice has since fallen out of favor for many health professionals, because a study about a decade ago found that hormone replacement therapy can increase women's risk for breast cancer. However, other studies have found that hormone replacement therapy can hold preventative benefits against heart disease and dementia.
Though much research has been undertaken about hormone replacement therapy after menopause and cognition, cognition and hormone therapy before menopause has been studied comparatively little. This study was undertaken by a pair of researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. The researchers looked at 261 women between the ages of 45 and 65. All of the women were cognitively normal. They were split into two groups. One group had a family history of Alzheimer's disease; the other did not.
Researchers administered a series of cognitive tests that tested women's verbal ability, visuo-spatial ability, working memory, verbal learning and memory, and speed and flexibility. Women also needed to fill out a questionnaire on their health history, which is how researchers found out which women had taken birth control when they were younger.
Researchers found that women who had taken birth control outperformed their counterparts on cognitive tests. They also found that, the longer women took birth control, the better that they performed on the tests.
Researchers believe that further studies must be taken in order to confirm the link.