I received a press release last week that has bugged me for days. It described a small, observational study (a part of the larger, NIH-sponsored Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation) that found that certain cholesterol-lowering medications were associated with increased aggression and hostility in women. The study was very small and preliminary, nothing to get alarmed about yet, but the implications were sobering.
I have often questioned our willingness to take cholesterol-lowering drugs without trying harder to take care of our health with diet and exercise. But this study seems to raise alarms that go beyond drugs, or even one type of drug, statins. We are accustomed these days to learning that something we eat, drink, shampoo with, or simply breathe vapors from may be harming our physical health. Not so often do we learn that something in our diet or environment may be harming our psychological health as well, changing our moods, attitudes, responses.
Of course, many of the most commonly prescribed drugs are designed to change our moods: anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs, for example. Isn’t it a creepy thought that we might be a nation on Prozac precisely because so many of the other things we are “on” (from drugs, to food, to cosmetics) are disturbing our mental health?
Sometimes I am shocked at how casually we (myself included) react to the fact that our lives are laced with substances that in the long run can kill us. I wonder if we would be so relatively calm about it if we knew those substances might be changing our personalities.