Could Birth Control Be The Cause of Your Depression?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Recent studies have shown a link between oral contraceptives and serotonin levels among females. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the implications of these surprising findings, as well as give advice on natural methods you can use to restore your body’s serotonin levels.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Today we're going to talk about oral contraceptives. Do oral contraceptives increase your risk of suicide? Ouch. But before we get into that, I want to read something. We actually welcome your reviews and your testimonials if you are willing to leave them for so, because they're so cool. We actually read them. We've got one here that I love.

Hooked and growing because of it ... this is from Corporate Cowboy. I'm hooked on your podcast and the information it contains is helping me grow as a person and is improving my health and those around me. Thank you for being so steadfast in your approach and beliefs. I purchased Change Your Brain and ordered the Brain Warrior's Way book and cookbook. Keep challenging us to do better to ourselves and those we care about.

Love that.

Dr Daniel Amen: Thank you so much.

Tana Amen: Thank you. Keep sending those to us. They're like a little dopamine burst for us, so we love that. Now, let's talk about this, because you've mentioned this before. I've heard you talk about how oral contraceptives actually cut your serotonin and in women, we already have less serotonin.

Dr Daniel Amen: And according to one study, 52% less serotonin. And serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps people feel happy. It manages their cravings. It's involved in social reactions. Also involved in pain. And when serotonin levels go low, the emotional brain fires up, making women particularly more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, worry, holding grudges, if things don't go their way they get upset. They can be just a bit argumentative and oppositional-

Tana Amen: No.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... and see too many errors in themselves and their spouses.

Tana Amen: This is interesting. This study was published November 17th in the American Journal of Psychiatry, and is a big study. It's a Danish study. It was nearly a half million women followed for an average of 8.3 years. This was a big study, and the mean age was 21 years old, and there were nearly 7,000 first suicide attempts and 71 suicides that were identified throughout the study.

This was a big study, and what I thought was really interesting ... so here's what they said. Women who use hormonal contraceptives are at an increased risk for suicide attempt and suicide. The highest relative risk is seen in adolescent women. That's really interesting. We need to pay attention to that when we put young girls on birth control, not just because they're becoming sexually active, but so often it's because of their skin or because they've got polycystic ovarian syndrome. That is not the cure for polycystic ovarian syndrome. It's just a Band-Aid. So that's one thing.

Also, it says that it increases risk of depression, which you just talked about. They actually go on to say that doctors should be more careful when prescribing hormonal contraception because they're not determining whether women have an underlying depression in advance, and that's really important to identify. You've often said this is a problem. What do you think about that?

Dr Daniel Amen: That dovetails with another study that was recently published of 20% of teenage girls are depressed.

Tana Amen: Right. And they're already struggling because their hormones are raging.

Dr Daniel Amen: We have an epidemic in this country of mental health problems.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: 23% of women between the ages of 20 and 60 are taking depressant medication, and it's like why? And birth control pills could be one of the reasons why mood disorders have skyrocketed. If they change your hormones and increase the risk of depression, now what do you do? You don't throw away your birth control pills-

Tana Amen: No, we need to talk about that.

Dr Daniel Amen: There are natural ways to increase serotonin, and exercise is one. A certain dietary combination. If you have foods that have protein that actually has a lot of tryptophan and you mix it with healthy carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, that's another way. People who go on a low carb diet actually have a higher incidence of depression because that diet really depletes serotonin in the brain.

Tana Amen: It's really important ... this is a complicated issue. If you are sexually active and you're not wanting to have children ... we have to pay attention to this ... then there are lots of different birth control options, but understanding your hormonal balance and whether you have depression and what other options are available ... and this is outside of my scope of practice, for sure. But if it were me, if you're really that depressed and you get depressed because of birth control pills, it's certainly not going to help your libido at all or your love life. Probably a good idea to go and find out what other options there are and get a thorough assessment with someone who really knows what they're doing, and find out what else you could be doing. Birth control pills also deplete B vitamins drastically. That's another thing you could do is be taking some B vitamins, complex B.

Dr Daniel Amen: And magnesium, because birth control pills also deplete magnesium. If you're on birth control pills, other ways to increase serotonin can be really helpful, and then the natural treatments for depression, which are omega-3 fatty acids, higher in EPA than DHA. I think everybody should ... I like the blend that we have with Omega-3 Power which is 60% EPA, 40% DHA, and I did that purposefully because the studies show more EPA tends to help focus and mood. More DHA, more for memory and anxiety.

Multiple vitamin for the B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids. Optimize your vitamin D level. I say that over and over and over again. Exercise. Learning to kill the ANTs, the automatic negative thoughts that come into your mind, and all of these treatments have been found head-to-head against depressants to be equally effective, but they have no side effects. And then if you noticed that after you started birth control pills that you became depressed, you should stop them.

Tana Amen: So pay attention.

Dr Daniel Amen: And you should talk to your doctor about other ways to not have the baby. And I think that's really important. Now, there are natural treatments for depression, like St. John's Wort. But St. John's Wort's actually been found to decrease the effectiveness-

Tana Amen: Be careful.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... of birth control pills. I'm at the University of Washington doing a book signing, and I saw in their bookstore café, they had shakes and they had a St. John's Wort shake. And I'm like oh, great. Someone's feeling depressed. They get a St. John's Wort shake, and now all of a sudden they're pregnant, even though they don't want to be, but they're going to get more depressed, not less depressed.

Tana Amen: Right. So interesting. Yeah, just be aware, and also be aware that there are different ways that birth controls are made up of different hormonal balances. Make sure you're just getting checked. You go to someone who knows what they're talking about. Pay attention to what your moods are like.

Dr Daniel Amen: I wonder in the study if they looked at IUDs.

Tana Amen: I don't think they did. I think this was just birth control pills, because it was about hormones.

Dr Daniel Amen: And you and I know this really well, that hormones are so connected to brain health. We think of hormones like Miracle-Gro for the brain.

Tana Amen: Right. This was hormonal contraceptives.

Dr Daniel Amen: Right, so it's estrogen, progesterone. Ways to alter a woman's cycle, but whenever you mess with hormones, you mess with someone's ability-

Tana Amen: Absolutely.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... to feel happy. To feel rational. And you were telling me the other day about ... when a woman starts having her period, that it actually begins to remodel her brain, especially after she has a baby.

Tana Amen: There are three stages. Adolescence, when her hormones shift and she becomes a woman. But then when you have a baby ... those people who have children probably know what I'm talking about, women who have children ... you never sleep quite the same again. Your brain literally rewires itself. You get this mommy brain and everything becomes about protecting your nest. You're willing to put up with more than you would normally put up with in order to keep your family together. You-

Dr Daniel Amen: Willing to put up more with me, is that what you're saying?

Tana Amen: In general, yes. Fortunately with you, I don't have to. That's a good thing, because you're great. But most women do. They end up putting up with a lot of things they might not because the focus ... it's not conscious. It's just that's the focus, that's the drive, is to keep their nest together. It's a nesting thing. It's a family ... her whole focus is on keeping her family safe and secure and together.

And then when she goes through menopause ... a big study was done, and this is really interesting. And part of it was discovered because a lot of people thought that oh, midlife crisis, more men are filing for divorce. Turns out it's not the men. It was the women. More women.

Dr Daniel Amen: 70% of the time.

Tana Amen: Right. It's women during that hormonal shift, during that menopausal age or midlife crisis age that are filing for divorce, and so you're like well, why? Is it because men are cheating, is it ... nope. Men don't really want their families to fall apart. Even if they did, it's often they don't want their families to fall apart.

What ends up happening is a woman's brain rewires again. She went through mommy brain, and then when she goes through menopause, it rewires again. What mommy brain is is that she gets more estrogen. She estrogenizes her brain. That's that I'm going to keep everything together. I'm nesting. That's that feminizing type of reaction. Makes her very protective of her nest.

Then all of a sudden when she goes through menopause, she rewires again and she's like, okay, I'm done. Estrogen drops low. Testosterone goes really high. Well, it's not that it goes higher. It becomes more dominant because the other hormones drop lower. So she's now more testosterone-dominant, and everything that's been bothering her ... her kids are gone, her kids leave the nest, and she's like I'm done. It's all about me. She's just done.

Dr Daniel Amen: Are you saying this is what I have to look forward to?

Tana Amen: I hope not, because I think ... here's the thing. I often say that progesterone is the reason I'm not on the evening news. I'm don't want that to happen to may family. So know better, do better. I'm aware. I pay attention and I stay where?

Dr Daniel Amen: That's why we do the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. To let you know what's in store for you, because it's a war.

Tana Amen: Exactly.

Dr Daniel Amen: And you want to be armed, prepared, and aware. Stay with us.

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