page updated: 31-Mar-2004

A friend of mine is a psych student and is doing some research assistant intern work on a study of women's cognitive abilities (I think) throughout their cycles. He asked me what was up with the birth control pill and how it affected a woman's own hormone production, so as to decide how to analyze study subjects who were on the pill.

I told him to look it up himself :) but then I got all determined to figure it out anyway. After re-reading that redspot hormone page, I worked out a couple of things.

If you scan down to the description of the end of the cycle, when you're about to bleed, it states that progesterone produced by the corpus luteum (the follicle that released an egg at ovulation) inhibits production of FSH and LH. FSH and LH are what maintain the corpus luteum and cause the follicles to ripen some eggs for release and possible fertilization.

Normally, when the corpus luteum starts making progesterone it essentially shuts itself off, along with the other follicles. Following this, progesterone levels would normally drop since the thing that was making progesterone has shut down. This allows FSH and LH to be produced again, which causes more follicles to ripen more eggs and eventually will cause one to be released.

But, birth control pills, minipills, the Depo shot and probably other chemical contraceptives all contain progesterone. If you are adding progesterone to the system, it will inhibit FSH and LH and prevent any eggs from ripening. Since you are adding it artificially, it won't shut its own production off and the follicles will just stay inactive. No babies!

I don't know what the role of estrogen in combination birth control pills like mine is, but I know that doctors prefer to give combination pills rather than mini-pills which contain only progesterone. They are supposed to be more effective and also safer. I'll see if I can find out what the deal is (any enlightened visitor laughing at my ignorance who decides to email me gets 5 cool points).

Estrogen does seem to do a bunch of beneficial things for us ladies. It makes me wonder what good menopause was supposed to be, if higher estrogen levels seem to generally protect us from mental disorders and cancer. My grampa has Alzheimer's so my gramma is always updating me on Alzheimer's news, and apparently some study has found that in women low estrogen is a major risk factor. My psych intern friend says similar things about schizophrenia.

As a final note, doctors don't like to administer plain estrogen to women, without it being in combination with progesterone. My mum was on hormone therapy of various kinds after having ovarian cysts removed and being treated for quite serious endometriosis. She was on estrogen alone for a few months, to stop her own ovaries from actively producing the hormone. I don't know what is dangerous about estrogen alone. I'm pretty lazy about finding out hormone-related things. The chemistry of it doesn't get me too excited, despite my being in biochem skool.

This page was kind of directionless, but it is what I know.

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