YIKES! Statins could make you more aggressive . . .

January 14, 2020 at 4:14 pm (By Amba) ()

. . . and Tylenol could make you less empathetic, among other unsuspected and uninvestigated emotional and behavioral side effects of common drugs:

 fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans have shown that the same areas of our brain become active when we’re experiencing “positive empathy” –pleasure on other people’s behalf – as when we’re experiencing pain.

Given these facts, Mischkowski wondered whether painkillers might be making it harder to experience empathy. Earlier this year, together with colleagues from Ohio University and Ohio State University, he recruited some students and spilt them into two groups. One received a standard 1,000mg dose of paracetamol, while the other was given a placebo. Then he asked them to read scenarios about uplifting experiences that had happened to other people, such as the good fortune of “Alex”, who finally plucked up the courage to ask a girl on a date (she said yes).

The results revealed that paracetamol significantly reduces our ability to feel positive empathy – a result with implications for how the drug is shaping the social relationships of millions of people every day. Though the experiment didn’t look at negative empathy – where we experience and relate to other people’s pain – Mischkowski suspects that this would also be more difficult to summon after taking the drug. . . .

“[T]o be honest, this line of research is really the most worrisome that I’ve ever conducted,” he says. “Especially because I’m well aware of the numbers [of people] involved. When you give somebody a drug, you don’t just give it to a person – you give it to a social system.” 

Mitigating factors:

  • “Technically, paracetamol isn’t changing our personalities, because the effects only last a few hours and few of us take it continuously.” But it’s good to be aware of the effect, so “you don’t . . . take paracetamol [ahead of] a situation that requires you to be emotionally responsive – like having a serious conversation with a partner or co-worker.”)
  • The same brain centers that host empathy govern both physical and emotional pain, so “paracetamol can make us feel better after a rejection.”
  • SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac markedly reduce the Big Five trait of “neuroticism” (“epitomised by anxious feelings, such as fear, jealousy, envy and guilt”) and make people more extroverted.

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A PSA about PSA Tests….

September 8, 2014 at 10:47 pm (Icepick) (, , , )

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. My wife, Kim, has asked me to broadcast this information. More than a decade ago she lost her father to prostate cancer, so this matter is near and dear to her heart.

So to all the gentleman, and other males, out there, go get a finger shoved up your ass by a professional. It might just save your life. And it might spare your daughters, wives, sons and other loved ones from a feeling of loss due to your absence.


PSA = Public Service Announcement

PSA Test = Prostate-Specific Antigen Test, a blood test to help detect prostate cancer; used in conjunction with Digital Rectal Exams for screening purposes.

More information can be found here and here.

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A brief thought about Lance Armstrong

January 5, 2013 at 5:58 pm (Icepick) (, , )

Part of Lance Armstrong’s cancer treatment was chemotherapy. Is it any wonder he became convinced of the truth of better living through chemicals?

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Romantic Medicine vs. Utilitarian Healthcare: A Dialog [UPDATED]

December 29, 2009 at 5:15 pm (By Amba) (, )

UPDATE: Highly pertinent to this post is Wendell Berry’s 2002 essay “Two Minds.” While it was ironically published in The Progressive, Berry is what you’d have to call a green conservative.  He talks about “Rational Mind” vs. “Sympathetic Mind” in very allied terms.

I recommend this beautiful post by James P. Pinkerton at his blog Serious Medicine.  I don’t have time right now to excerpt it in a serious, bloggy way, so I’ll quickly post the brief tastes I “tweeted” from it:

The argument for heroic surgery is like that 4 sending people to the Moon.

Talmudic teaching, who saves one life saves the entire world, vs. the health-policy, quantitative way of looking at it

‘Serious Medicine’ … “is qualitative, not quantitative. The quality of mercy is hard, if not impossible, to quantify.”

“the overall romance & mystique of medicine is inherently qualitative…that’s why civilization has so revered medicine…a romantic aspect”

While not unaware of the real problem of how all this is going to be paid for, Pinkerton makes a stirring argument — human, religious, and Romantic — for saving single lives even at horrendous cost, whether at their precarious beginning (look at Charlie Miller now!!) or near their end (the example of the advanced-cancer patient in the post).

I had recently been thinking about these issues as a result of hearing about an 80-year-old with fairly advanced Lewy Body dementia (what J has) who fell, broke his hip, and is now getting hip replacement surgery.  Because of the impairments that caused him to fall, it’s going to be very hard for him to rehab to the point of being back on his feet.  Does it make sense to replace the hip of someone who will probably never stand again?  Or is the surgery the only way of keeping him from being in intractable pain?  In the old days and the old world (I saw this in Romania), someone who broke a hip was usually bedridden for the rest of his or her life, yet could last a couple more years well-tended to by exhausted family members.  This man is now going into a nursing home to stay; he wife was reaching the breaking point anyway coping with his irrationality and paranoia (the latter being what J, thankfully, mostly HASN’T got).  She was terrified of trying to explain to him why he had to go into a facility, and was actually relieved that he fell and broke his hip.

All this led to another exchange between me and my sistah the doctah:

A[mba]: I found this an absolutely beautiful post, if problematic.  Even if you disagree with its “never give up” ethos being taken to absurd extremes, it will still make you feel good about being a doctor.

S[istah]: I confess to not being able to wade through the entire post…when I hit the religious stuff my brain shut down. even though he writes beautifully and says some perceptive things.

I read the NYT article about the surgeon and the surgery and confess that my first thought was Wow how incredible, my 2nd was what a cowboy (about the surgeon. not a fair response but an extrapolation from my own dealings with transplant surgeons who have egos as big as the great outdoors and motives that aren’t always altruistic but cravenly human), my 3rd what a waste. of time, money, resources. But how potentially amazing for both the patient and his family (i refuse to get involved with the god part).

The economization of medicine maybe does separate us all too much from the glorious ability [of] medicine to save and improve lives.  But we’ve gotten way out of hand here. I can’t help thinking of what the hundreds of thousands spent on that guys surgery could have done for old people who can’t afford their basic meds and all the other medical inequities that exist. It’s obviously not a quid pro quo, I know. And you can certainly make a point that in this particular situation the surgeon was trying out techniques that may be useful in more hopeful situations. But one of the problems I see is that people (Americans specifically) have absurd expectations about health and healthcare. we’re all going to fucking die some day. we need to focus on doing the most good for the most people…not do outrageous things for the few. or we can do those things as long as the many are getting the basics.

I REALLY feel it’s all about the capitalization of health care…so much $$ is being made by drug co’s, hospitals, insurance cos, and…yes…some doctors. Until we do something about that care will continue to be insanely polar. whew. a rant.

A: I think the conservatives’ argument would be that people on the whole are not motivated to do great things simply by the fact that it’s good and compassionate and sensible to do so.  They are most motivated by rewards — money, power, and fame.  So if you restrict the rewards, you restrict the greatness of what will be done.  Decapitalize “serious medicine” (or any other field of activity) you demotivate it.  And of course you will still have greed and corruption, the monopolization of wealth by the powerful and power by the wealthy, fraud, black marketeering, etc. etc., with less ability to regulate/correct them.  They would argue (despite their religion thing) that virtue and common sense are weak rewards, to which most people have to be prodded by fear (hell) and shame, or perhaps luxuries — the ultimate rewards for people who’ve already had all the other rewards, like Bill Gates and Pastor Rick Warren (of The Purpose Driven Life, who now gives away 90% of his income, so he says).

Do I agree, i.e. am I a conservative?  No; just not a liberal anymore either.  I’ll sadly entertain their argument (“entertain” rather than “hold” is what I do with most beliefs these days), but not being very motivated by material rewards myself (obviously, or I’d have some), I don’t get it viscerally at all.  I can just see that it may be true of others.  The Darwinian conservatives would just say this proves that a) I am simply not the fittest, not vigorously self-interested, not surviving, not reproducing, being eliminated from the gene pool, and b) proof that when greed dies out it is either the ultimate luxury or a symptom of vitiation or decadence.  It’s the brawling “getting yours” stage that they most admire, the force that propels deprived but enterprising people out of poverty and doesn’t stop there, but goes on to build empires, empires which do great good as well as harm.  I find it amusing that they can be so Darwinian and so pro-Christianity at the same time…until you observe that maybe Christianity serves its holders’ survival, optimism, will to power, and reproduction.

Possibly to be continued/updated between us; in the meantime, I hope you will jump in.

P.S.  In the interests of full disclosure (lest I make myself sound like a noble failure), while not very motivated by material rewards, I’m certainly motivated by attention, recognition, admiration.  Just not any good at getting them on a scale beyond the happy few.

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