Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Presuming cause and effect--an ongoing theme

"Older men with lower free testosterone levels in their blood appear to have higher prevalence of depression," according to new research in Australia, as reported in Science Daily.

This kind of linking of body chemistry to mental health goes on all the time in our biochemical-crazy age. And there's nothing wrong with linking, but our cultural predisposition is to go immediately from "link" to "cause," and that's where the mishigas starts. Here:

"A total of 203 of the participants (5.1 percent) met criteria for depression; these men had significantly lower total and free testosterone levels then men who were not depressed. After controlling for other factors--such as education level, body mass index and cognitive scores--men in the lowest quintile (20 percent) of free testosterone concentration had three times the odds of having depression compared to men in the highest quintile."

See how the biochemical fact of having low testosterone and the psychological fact of having depression (this would be a straightforward link) is converted--without any evidence--to a cause when it's phrased this way: that men with the lowest testosterone have "three times the odds of having depression." This makes it sound like low testosterone may lead to depression when it's more likely, to anyone who understands the mind-body connection, that it's the depression that leads to the low testosterone levels.

The fact that the researchers talk immediately about the treatment implications of the finding--they want to do a trial to see if treating depressed men with extra testosterone helps them--shows that as far as they're concerned, cause and effect is a done deal: low testosterone causes depression, adding testosterone to depressed men will undepress them.

It's truly hard for me to remember that people think this way, and that those people have been in charge of our view of health, and our health care system, for a long time. They see the chemical sign of a mental or emotional state and relentlessly (and, I contend, harmfully) presume--without an apparent second thought--that the chemistry causes the mental or emotional state.

Even though it is clear to an elementary school student that our mental or emotional state can obviously and clearly cause changes to our bodies. Our bodies are made up of chemicals. There is no reason not to conclude that our mental or emotional states can cause chemical changes in our bodies.

As for the potential for harm: if it's depression causing the low testosterone, there's resume to believe that additional testosterone will root out the depression, while we cannot know the side effects of fiddling with our body's chemistry unnecessarily.

No comments: