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More than 150 million women worldwide rely on oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Findings presented last month at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting demonstrate that oral contraceptive use is associated with smaller hypothalamus volume.

The hypothalamus is a region of the forebrain located below the thalamus. It coordinates both the autonomic nervous system and pituitary gland activity, controlling body temperature, thirst, hunger, and other homeostatic systems, and is involved in sleep and emotional activity.

The study involved 50 healthy young women who were taking oral contraceptives. Each of the women underwent an MRI to assess structural changes in their brains. The MRI results showed that the hypothalamus volumes of the women who were taking oral contraceptives were approximately 6 percent lower women not taking oral contraceptives. Overall brain size was not affected, however.

This was a small preliminary study with very preliminary findings. Larger studies are needed to confirm this association.

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