Girl Power - With pan class=GramE>A Little
Help From Male Hormones
By Dr Raj Persaud
The Scotsman -
A leading gynaecologist has recently claimed that female politicians are using testosterone implants to try to match their male counterparts in assertiveness and competitiveness.
extraordinary claim - recently published in the New Statesman magazine - was
greeted with disbelief in
Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said: "MPs are far more likely to succeed if they use rational arguments rather than hormonal-fuelled rhetoric." Margaret Beckett, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, also denied using the implants, saying: "Women don't have to be like men to be successful." And Conservative Julie Kirkbride added: "I can't believe Margaret Thatcher would have resorted to this type of thing, and she got to the top in a man's world."
But Mr Whitehead, who runs a trust offering advice to menopausal women, maintained he is increasingly being approached by women MPs wanting testosterone implants. The hormone - which is said to fuel a man's sex drive - is produced in small amounts by women - up to ten times lower levels.
However, as women age those levels can dip, just as the female hormones more usually associated with the menopause do. Testosterone and related hormones in women are produced from the same organs where more traditional female hormones originate - the ovaries and the adrenal glands, which sit just above the kidneys. The lower testosterone levels of the menopause are associated with causing women to lose interest in sex, have lower energy levels and, in some cases, reduces their confidence and mood.
implants are meant to solve that problem. The treatment involves embedding a
small pellet under the skin, which releases a fixed testosterone dose into
the bloodstream over a six-month period.
Critics claim this has dangers, but Mr Whitehead dismissed that suggestion, saying: "As long as they stay within the normal hormonal range, there is nothing to worry about. All the talk of deepening voices and beard growth is complete nonsense."
Testosterone can't as yet be taken orally, but can be taken as a skin patch, a chemical that dissolves under the tongue, or as an injection.
The most sophisticated medical view now of hormone replacement therapy for women in the menopause is that it should probably include a touch of testosterone as well to assist with mood and sex drive.
But a key controversy is that, unlike the situation in men, we still lack enough data about how normal testosterone levels vary in women throughout their life span or even through the monthly menstrual cycle. So it's difficult to know from a blood test what would constitute abnormally low levels and what would therefore need topping up from treatment.
Given the definite advantages to women in terms of mood anterms of mood and drive on taking testosterone, this leads some doctors to suggest it should be tried without any hard evidence that the woman is suffering from an actual testosterone deficiency.
But Labour's Bridget Prentice - who was recently promoted to the whip's office - said she had not heard of colleagues using the implants. "Women are more than able to compete without taking steps like this," she added.
However the medical scientists investigating the role of testosterone in women don't share this apparent scepticism among high-powered women. They believe that testosterone plays an important role in maintaining mental and physical functions of healthy women.
recent study in the
Another study by Dr Valerie Grant at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that how dominant you were as a woman was strongly linked to how high your testosterone levels were. A previous similar study had found higher testosterone levels in professional and managerial women compared to housewives and clerical workers.
Helen Bateup, a neuroendocrinologist, and colleagues at the
Men characteristically experience a testosterone increase in anticipation of competition. This pre-competition rise is likely to make tlikely to make the individual more willing to take risks, improve psychomotor function like hand-eye co-ordination and increase cognitive performance as these are all the positive effects of testosterone on the body and brain. For a few hours following competition, testosterone is high in sports winners relative to losers and this rise in testosterone following a win is associated with positive mood.
Studies show that these changes also occur in non-physical competition such as chess matches. This suggests testosterone is so useful in bringing about changes that help improve competitiveness that physical competition is not all that is needed to produce a testosterone surge.
This has the intriguing implication that we could all benefit from testosterone even if we are not contemplating a physical competitive challenge like a sport, but perhaps an intellectual contest, just as MPs do in the aggressive atmosphere of parliament.
Indeed, atctn m the competition is not necessarily required either to influence testosterone. Testosterone levels increase among spectators watching their favourite sports teams win and decrease for the fans of the losing teams. These findings suggest that just being in parliament, taking part in the charged atmosphere and watching the competition, is enough to raise your testosterone levels.
if just watching a game you are involved in as an active fan can
significantly raise your testosterone levels then maybe you don't need to go
Strategies that would do this include taking part in competitive sport. Indeed, just regular physical exercise will boost testosterone and women who exercise regularly have significantly higher testosterone levels than those who don't.
But maybe the historical huge contrast in testosterone levels between men and women had an evolutionary basis which it might be dangerous to mess with. Women's response to challenges may be more defensive in nature than men's - the female approach has been termed a "tend and befriend" strategy to differentiate it from the "fight or flight" response attributed to men and which their higher testosterone levels probabne levels probably helps produce.
However, it's important not to forget the nickname given to testosterone by endocrinologists is the "one night stand" hormone as it increases sex drive and risk taking. So it's thought to underpin the much greater male propensity to seek unattached sex compared to women.
If female politicians really are taking testosterone or are having their levels boosted by being in the competitive atmosphere of parliament, could these hormonal changes have wider political implications? Are we more likely in the future to see female MPs getting caught up in the kind of sex scandals that have so characterised male politicians?
If this is the case it might mean that testosterone causes women politicians to lose at least one clear advantage female MPs historically had over the men ... at least their families could trust them more.