Researchers Find That Birth Control Pills May Protect Female Athletes from Concussions

A pilot study that was conducted recently by Northwestern Medicine has discovered that when a female athlete experiences a concussion when the hormone progesterone is at its highest during her menstrual cycle phase, she experiences less stress. Experiencing less stress is a recovery marker while feeling more stress is among the symptoms of a concussion.

The study, which was reported in the “Journal of Neurotrauma,” also found that the reason for the neural protection was the increase of the flow of blood to the brain because of higher progesterone levels.

Research assistant professor of behavioral sciences and psychiatry from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Amy Herrold, who was the co-author of the study, explained that the discovery suggests that using hormonal contraceptives, which can increase progesterone artificially or right after ovulation when progesterone is at its highest, could mean that athletes would not experience serious symptoms if they experienced a concussion.

Assistant professor of radiology at Feinberg Jenny Chen, who was lead author of the study, stated that resolving the symptoms of a concussion was particularly problematic for athletes who were working on returning to sports, school and daily activities after suffering a traumatic head injury.

The athletes who participated in the research were members of tennis clubs, women’s rugby, lacrosse, triathlon, crew, ultimate Frisbee and soccer. Herrold noted that the researchers looked into club athletes as the majority of college students took part in club athletics compared to varsity athletics. Additionally, club athletics weren’t monitored as much, which could potentially lead to concussions being underreported and increased exposure.

Herrold asserted that their research filled a gap in literature, as a majority of concussion research associated with sports mainly looked into the effects of concussions on male athletes.

The researchers also discovered an increased flow of blood in the brain when a female athlete had high progesterone levels due to her menstrual cycle phase.

The study involved 30 female athletes who researchers evaluated three to ten days after they had experienced an mTBI or a concussion. The researchers performed an MRI scan that looked into the blood flow in the brain. This was in addition to assessing the participant’s reported mild traumatic brain injury symptoms, which were recorded in a questionnaire, and drawing blood to examine each participant’s level of progesterone.

Herrold noted that doctors should assess the use of contraceptives, which increase levels of progesterone in athletes who could be at risk of experiencing a mild TBI or a concussion, as there was a possibility for neuroprotection.

What this research team is recommending is that women athletes need a personalized approach to safeguarding them against the effects of concussion. Delivering personalized care is what Predictive Oncology (NASDAQ: POAI) brings to cancer treatment with its focus on harnessing the powers of data and AI while designing cancer treatments.

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