Hormonal effects on cognition in oral contraceptive users and naturally-cycling women
Hawkshead, Brittany Erin
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The combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) is the most common method of hormonal birth control for U.S. women, and there is a growing body of literature investigating hormone-related effects on cognition. Much of the research suggests that verbal memory and visuospatial functioning improve with COCPs in comparison to the natural menstrual cycle (MC). Hormonal variations during the natural MC have also been shown to impact cognition, with periods of high sex hormones (i.e., luteal phase) associated with improved verbal memory, and periods of low sex hormones (i.e., follicular phase) associated with improved visuospatial abilities. We analyzed group differences in cognitive performance using two separate designs: (a) discordant siblings and (b) demographics-matched groups. Overall, visuospatial functioning did not differ as a result of MC phase or COCP use. However, verbal memory scores were significantly higher for women during the follicular phase than during the luteal phase, contrary to expectations.