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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Jun;34(5):713-26. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.11.009. Epub 2009 Jan 7.

Putting a finger on potential predictors of oral contraceptive side effects: 2D:4D and middle-phalangeal hair.

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Department of Psychology, Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Rd., Thunder Bay, ON P7B 5E1, Canada.


Many women experience emotional or physical side effects when taking oral contraceptives (OCs). Despite the potential impact on women's health and well-being, there are no valid methods to screen women for their risk of OC side effects. The present paper presents the results of two studies where anthropometric indicators of androgen exposure, 2D:4D and middle-phalangeal hair, were examined for their potential as predictors of OC side effects. In study 1, 2D:4D was associated with women's reports of a history of: (a) negative mood side effects; (b) discontinuation due to negative mood side effects; (c) specific mood side effects (i.e., crying, sadness, and altered trust in one's partners) and (d) specific physical side effects (i.e., headaches, fatigue, and decreased sex drive). In study 2, 2D:4D and/or middle-phalangeal hair was/were associated with a reported history of: (a) discontinuation due to negative mood side effects; (b) specific mood-related side effects (i.e., negative mood, disrupted sleep, increased aggression, and altered trust in one's partner) and (c) specific physical side effects (i.e., headaches, decreased menstrual cramps, and increased sex drive/arousal). The general pattern was that adverse OC side effects were experienced by women with lower 2D:4D and fewer middle-phalangeal hairs. Almost all relationships remained significant when response bias was controlled. These results suggest a possible role for prenatal testosterone exposure and both androgen action and sensitivity in women's experience of OC side effects. Furthermore, these two digit measures may be useful predictors of hormonal contraceptive side effects in women.

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