Birth Control Shot Linked to Risk of…Wait What was it Again?

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Many women rely on depo-provera or “The Shot” to provide ongoing pregnancy prevention, but the shot may be hindering much more than ovulation.


Researchers at Arizona State University have discovered that medroxyprogesterone (MPA), an active hormone in depo-provera and many menopausal hormone therapies, impairs memory in rodents, according a Science Daily article. The link between MPA and memory loss in menopausal-aged rats was researched in a study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory in November 2010.

Psychology doctoral student Blair Braden became concerned about the effects for her friends who were using MPA as a contraceptive

“Does it have the same memory-impairing effects if someone takes it as a birth control, when they are a younger age?” asked Braden, who led the study under Heather Bimonte-Nelson, associate professor of psychology and director of the Bimonte-Nelson Memory and Aging Laboratory.

This is obviously a serious concern for women who may “double dip,” using MPA as a contraceptive when they are younger and relying on it for menopause treatment when they are older.

What They Found

The team working with Braden and Bimonte-Nelson found animals that had been given MPA at any point in their lives suffered memory impairment when middle aged, compared to animals that had never received the drug.

They also discovered the test group that mirrored young women on The Shot (animals that were only given the hormone when young) had no trace of MPA in their systems during middle age, yet they still suffered the memory loss.

Animals are the first step in proving a correlation between a drug and a risk. Now the team will begin the next round of tests in humans to see if The Shot has the same effects on women.

Do the Risks Outweigh the Benefits?

If you receive depo-provera, you may already be aware of the research that links The Shot to bone density issues. In addition, now you must consider the potential effects on your memory. Only you can weigh these cons against the benefits you personally receive from The Shot. If convenience is a high factor for your choice to receive depo-provera, you might consider other options that don’t require a daily pill:

  • NuvaRing: A flexible ring containing estrogen and progestin that you insert into the vagina and remove after three weeks. After a week, during which you have your period, another ring is inserted.
  • Ortho Evra: This patch contains estrogen and progestin and is placed on the skin, delivering hormones for three weeks before being removed. After a week passes, during which you have your period, a new patch is placed.
  • IUD: There are two options for intrauterine devices (IUDs). The copper IUD contains no chemicals and is effective for 12 years. Mirena contains the progestin hormone levonorgestrel and is effective for 5 years.
  • Implanon: This “implant” is placed under your skin and is effective for up to three years. It contains the progestin hormone etonogestrel.

What Will You Do?

All birth control options come with their risks and benefits. Some force you to sacrifice effectiveness for safety, while others have nearly perfect success but may cause blood clots or other health issues.

The bottom line: Every woman must stay educated regarding her birth control options and decide which works best for her – at least until there is a birth control for men!

Share this blog with friends or family who receive or might consider receiving depo-provera so they stay informed. And as always, leave us your feedback or questions in the comments below.

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One Response to Birth Control Shot Linked to Risk of…Wait What was it Again?

  1. Pingback: Should Birth Control Pills be Available Over the Counter?

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