Two new studies examine the potential link between the reported “obesity hormone” leptin, the hormones used for birth control, and the development of multiple sclerosis (MS). A news release from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) notes that the first study centered on obesity.

During the first study, BMI was calculated for 210 individuals with MS and 210 individuals of the same age and sex who did not have MS at ages 15 and 20 years old, and at the time of the study. The results suggest that individuals who are obese at the age of 20 years old are twice as likely to develop MS as individuals who are not obese.

Additionally, individuals with higher BMI levels also exhibited higher levels of leptin, a hormone created by fat tissue that regulates weight, appetite, and immune response. Jorge Correale, MD, Rául Carrera Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires, Argentina, explains that the hormone “promotes inflammatory responses in the body, which could potentially explain the link between obesity and MS.”

The second study targeted the birth control hormone. It encompassed 305 women who had been diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome, during a 3-year period from the membership of Kaiser Permanente Southern California and who had been members at least 3 years prior to the beginning of the MS symptoms. The release notes that researchers then compared the women to 3,050 women who did not have MS.

The results indicate that 29% of the women with MS and 24% of the women without MS had used hormonal contraceptives for at least 3 months in the 3 years prior to the beginning of their symptoms. The researches add that the majority used estrogen/progestin combinations. The study reports that women who had used hormonal contraceptives were 35% more likely to develop MS than those who did not use them. Individuals who had used the contraceptives but had stopped at least 1 month prior to the start of symptoms were 50% more likely to develop MS.

In the release, Kerstin Hellwig, MD, lead study author, Bochum Germany, post-doctoral research fellow, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, states that, “These findings suggest that using hormonal contraceptives may be contributing at least in part to the rise in the rate of MS among women.”

Source: AAN