THURSDAY, Jan. 4, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Hormonal contraceptive (HC) use affects women's glucocorticoid, inflammatory, and psychological responses to psychosocial stress, which may contribute to observed differences in mental and physical health, according to a study published in the January issue of Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
Noting that women using HCs exhibit numerous signs of chronic inflammation, but often have similar circulating proinflammatory cytokine levels, Summer Mengelkoch, Ph.D., from the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues examined women's glucocorticoid, inflammatory, and psychological responses to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) in 67 naturally cycling (NC) and 60 oral HC-using women.
The researchers found that the HC users and NC women had different glucocorticoid and proinflammatory cytokine responses to the TSST. TSST-induced increases in glucocorticoids were uncommon for NC women, and increases in glucocorticoids were accompanied by interleukin-6 elevations. However, increases in glucocorticoids in response to the TSST were common for women using HC, and increases in glucocorticoids were accompanied by tumor necrosis factor-α increases. Differences were also seen in the psychological responses to the TSST, with elevated stress levels reported by HC users versus NC women.
"The present data are the first that we know of to characterize psychological and in vivo biological responses to an acute social stressor in both NC and HC-using women," the authors write. "Future research is needed to investigate the mechanisms underlying these interactions and to translate these findings into improved mental and physical health for the millions of women who use HCs."