How Progestin, a Synthetic Female Hormone, Could Affect the Brain

CONCLUSION

Progestins are a crucial part of contraceptive and hormone therapies. Progestin-containing contraceptive drugs account for an increasing proportion of modern contraceptive formulations used by women around the world. In the United States, medroxyprogesterone is the most prescribed progestin and the progestin used in hormone therapy studies including the Women's Health Initiative and Women's Health Initiative Memory Study. Other countries often use other forms of the drug. Typically, progestins for clinical use are administered over many years to decades, depending on the treatment. For example, the Norplant implant delivers a constant dose of levonorgestrel for five to seven years.

Despite the widespread use of progestins around the globe, relatively little is known about the effect of long-term treatment in the brains of women during and following their reproductive years. Animal and human studies strongly suggest that progestins have important effects on neurological function, ranging from regeneration in the brain to cognition.

These effects may be both positive and negative, as progestins appear to protect the brain against certain forms of degeneration while making it more vulnerable to others. The range of neurological and cognitive effects progestins have on the brain make it especially important for researchers to continue to tease apart the circumstances under which progestins may be an advantage or a drawback to the brain, whether during the reproductive years or beyond.

If you have questions about the use of progestins, or are interesting in making changes to your treatment routine, it is important to talk to your doctor first. He or she can answer specific questions about the benefits and risks involved with hormone treatment.

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Image: Ioannis Pantzi/Shutterstock.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Presented by

Muye Zhu & Roberta Diaz Brinton

Muye Zhu is a doctoral candidate in the neuroscience program at the University of Southern California. Roberta Brinton is a professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Southern California.

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