Friday, November 30, 2012
Testosterone and the Midlife Crisis
Recently a number of stories further highlighted problems in the areas of discipline and responsibility.
A few days before Thanksgiving came a story on new research that suggests apes, our genetically closest relatives in the animal kingdom, experience a midlife low point in happiness just like humans. “The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest the dip in happiness that frequently occurs during the mid-40s for today's humans may have its roots in physical or hormonal changes, rather than the stresses of modern culture.” They imply that we shouldn’t feel so bad about feeling sadder in our 40s, that it may have biological links. My fear is that we have given middle-aged men (and women) ammunition to rationalize their bad decisions by claiming that it’s in their DNA. Where there is lack of discipline, any opportunity to deny personal responsibility, such as genetics or addiction, becomes a basis for rationalization.
Surprisingly, the same source, CBS News, ran a story 17 months earlier where research showed the midlife crisis is substantially a myth. This segment on Sunday Morning says, “as it turns out, our assumptions are wrong…for most men it's more fiction than fact. Very few men - perhaps only 10 to 12 percent - have anything approaching a crisis.”
Despite this, the article goes on to report on men’s efforts to deny the effects of aging, to discover the fountain of youth. In their words: “Sales of testosterone products have shot up as if they are on, well, steroids - from $550 million in 2006, to $1.3 billion in 2010.” We continue to encounter those promotions today on radio and TV, in magazines and newspapers.
Advertisers promote testosterone as a new miracle cure, too good to be true. Rarely, though, do we hear about the side effects and dangers. Approaching it from a behavioral viewpoint we see those companies trying to prey on the general weaknesses in discipline, our tendency to look for the pill or the shot instead of doing the harder, lifestyle-oriented work. There are, in fact, dangers and side effects as pointed out at the end of that article, plus here and here, including blood clots, infertility, liver damage, and an increased risk of arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, angina, or congestive heart failure.
Men who are feeling a little down about getting old shouldn’t blame it on genetics or try to find an easy way out. The discipline and responsibility developed in facing aging by following a healthier life style will yield good consequences in many other areas, and perhaps even set a good example for the next generation.