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Oral contraceptives are widely known for their role in preventing pregnancy, but evidence suggests they also influence the body’s stress response. A recent study shows that women who took oral contraceptives had lower levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), a component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis typically produced in response to stress.

Researchers measured blood ACTH levels in 131 young women before and after the women participated in group activities designed to promote social bonding and reduce stress. The participants completed questionnaires about their moods before and after the activities.

They found that ACTH levels decreased among women not using contraceptives during the stress-buffering group activities, but this effect varied depending on their menstrual cycle phase. However, women using oral contraceptives did not experience the same decrease in ACTH levels during the group activities, regardless of their menstrual cycle phase.

These findings suggest that oral contraceptives not only affect the reproductive system but also influence the body’s response to stress. Learn about other effects of oral contraceptives in this clip from a live Q&A with Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

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