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July 21, 1969

Oral Contraceptives and Immune Responses

JAMA. 1969;209(3):410. doi:10.1001/jama.1969.03160160046013

Experimental immunologists have long known that women respond more vigorously to immunologic challenge than do men. A price is sometimes exacted for this increased capacity to respond, since women are more prone than men to develop diseases in which immune responses are overactive, such as lupus erythematosis or polymyositis. Despite these clear indications that a sex difference exists in immune responsiveness, relatively little is known as to why it occurs. Although obvious hormonal differences distinguish male from female, scant attention has been paid to the role which sex hormones play in modulating immune responses.

Large amounts of estrogen and progestin are prescribed daily as oral contraceptives to healthy women. The unanticipated hazards which oral contraceptives post by augmenting the risk of thromboembolic disease and of headache are becoming increasingly clear. The course of diseases in which immune function is disordered may conceivably be altered also by the modulating effect oral