Tag Archives: hormones

Creativity and androgyny

Every now and then, something many of us suspect does turn out to have some scientific validity, even if only preliminary. Indeed, it almost feels refreshing to have science on your side for once, since so many of our beliefs don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. I’ve had countless ideas of mine destroyed by science.

When it comes to artistic talent or creativity, there is a stereotype of the male artist as being “effeminate” or “androgynous”. When a man is described as “androgynous” this means he isn’t particularly masculine. An androgynous woman on the other hand is more masculine, on average. I am in no way implying there is anything even remotely wrong with being either effeminate or androgynous or for women to be masculine. If anything, since creativity is considered a good thing, being androgynous, which is linked with creativity, should then also be considered good.

Interestingly enough, some scientists decided to put this to the test, to see if androgyny is in fact linked with creativity and artistic talent. According to the University of Tübingen, Department of Clinical and Physiological Psychology, which did a study on Testosterone and artistic talents:

Musical composers, instrumentalists, and painters were compared with nonmusicians from a student and from an nonstudent population on testosterone levels in saliva. This steroid served as a marker for physiological androgyny. The ANOVA showed a significant group by sex interaction. Male composers attained significantly lower mean testosterone values than male instrumentalists and male nonmusicians; female composers had significantly higher mean testosterone values than female instrumentalists and female nonmusicians. Painters of both sexes did not differ significantly from controls. Spatial ability was assessed in the five groups. Significant differences on spatial test performance were not reflected in differences on salivary testosterone. Our results showed that musical composers of both sexes were physiologically highly androgynous. Creative musical behavior was associated with testosterone levels that minimized sex differences.

So both male and female composers are more androgynous than instrumentalists and painters? Interesting. Since this is just one small study, it is very difficult to come to any firm conclusions about how this applies to the “big picture”. Also, this is just co-relational study, it doesn’t mean that higher testosterone in women or lower testosterone in men causes them to be more creative when it comes to music.

But, assuming this is not just co-relational, but that testosterone is a causal mechanism, does it imply that if a man wants to be more creative, he should inject himself with estrogen or lower his testosterone levels? I am so totally not recommending such a thing. Not only is it ridiculous, but potentially very dangerous.

I’m always on the lookout to boost my creativity, and to find its correlates, so I naturally stumble upon strange studies like this. As for me, I am not messing with my testosterone levels.

The mighty flaxseed

It is for good reason that many people sing the praises of flaxseeds. I’ve even written songs about them; some people may love to sing about red wine or cocktails, but I prefer singing about flaxseeds.

Brown_Flax_Seeds

Source: Wikipedia

They are a very healthful addition to any diet, due to their unique nutritional contents that are difficult to get elsewhere. Not only are they a great source of fiber, but they also contain the essential fatty acid ALA, and also contain lignans which have phyto-estrogen effects.

Flaxseed has a lot of ALA(alpha-linolenic acid), which is one of the 3 main types of omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for the body’s metabolism. The 2 other types of omega 3s, EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(docosahexaenoic acid), are not found in flaxseed, but are plentiful in fish oil. The body has a very limited ability to convert ALA to EPA or DHA, so we are better off getting it through diet. Omega 3s are important because they help suppress inflammatory processes that may be damaging to the heart or other organs. The benefits of DHA are so widely recognized that many food companies fortify their products with it. DHA and the other omega 3s are particularly important for pregnant and nursing women, since DHA is needed for optimal brain growth.

If we look at a randomized, controlled study of omega 3 and omega 6 supplementation on children reported in Pediatrics. 2005 May;115(5):1360-6. – The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder.

“No effect of treatment on motor skills was apparent, but significant improvements for active treatment versus placebo were found in reading, spelling, and behavior over 3 months of treatment in parallel groups. After the crossover, similar changes were seen in the placebo-active group, whereas children continuing with active treatment maintained or improved their progress.”

This study wasn’t about flaxseed per se, but did use a fatty acid that is found in flaxseed. Flaxseeds may be helpful for preventing prostate cancer:

“Findings suggest that flaxseed is safe and associated with biological alterations that may be protective for prostate cancer. Data also further support low-fat diets to manage serum cholesterol.”

This is really impressive, and this just involves the omega 3s in flaxseed. The lignan content of flaxseeds are a whole other exciting ball game. Flaxseeds are by far the best source of lignan, containing hundreds of times more than almost all other plant foods. Lignans are phyto-estrogens(similar to the phyto-estrogens in soy) and may help prevent breast cancer, according to research done at Linköping University, due to their powerful hormonal effects. They may not only lower blood estrogen levels but may also lower testosterone levels. The testosterone lowering effect may concern some men, but I don’t think it is a cause for alarm based on the evidence. More research is obviously needed, but I’ll continue to sing about them in the mean time.

The best way to eat flaxseeds is to ground them yourself in a small coffee-grinder, or to use the oil as a supplement or salad dressing. Never use the oil for cooking, omega 3s aren’t heat stable. Flaxseeds also contain significant amounts of protein and minerals. No wonder many people call it a “Super Food”.