Richard G. Petty, MD

A Pill for Every Ill?

Many of us have been becoming more and more worried by the idea that if we don’t like something, then we should take a pill, rather than trying to get to grips with the causes.

Can’t sleep? Take this pill. {Ahem, but why not try sleep hygiene first?)

Shy? No, you’re not allowed to be shy, you have social phobia, take this medicine.

Don’t like the size of your tummy? Don’t exercise; we have just the pill for you!

Not only does this approach undermine our responsibility and autonomy, it also minimizes the suffering of people with real clinical problems. When every headache gets labeled a “migraine” and every cold gets turned into “’flu,” it is easy to lose patience, empathy and understanding for people who are really suffering with the genuine article.

Here is a fine example of an announcement that has doubtless caught the attention of headline writers around the world. Researchers from the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproduction Unit in Edinburgh in Scotland are reported to be working on a pill that would simultaneously boost a woman’s libido while at the same time reducing her appetite for food.

So what is this all about? Professor Robert Millar leads the Edinburgh team that has been looking at the properties type 2 gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), one of the hormones responsible for the release of sex hormones.

When it was given to monkeys, they displayed mating behavior such as tongue-flicking and eyebrow-raising to the males. When it was given female musk shrews, they displayed their feelings via “rump presentation and tail wagging.” These are two interesting visual images.

The thing is this. The tongue-flicking, eyebrow-raising tail wagers also ate around a third less food than they normally would. So now the search is on to find a pharmaceutical company that would like to make some kind of GnRH pill that would, presumably, produce libidinous skinny women.

Not only is this a frightful type of reductionism, but it raises all kinds of ethical issues.

The researchers in Edinburgh have been turning out a substantial body of very respectable data over the years, and this story looks very much like something that has been embellished.

Few people believe that eating or human sexuality are reducible to single chemicals in the brain. Low libido is a common problem, but it is usually a sign of stress, fatigue or relationship problems, rather than a chemical imbalance in the brain. And what, when and how we eat is an extraordinarily complex issue that is as much psychological and social as it is chemical. Stimulating the libido of someone in a lousy relationship is unlikely to lead to peace and harmony.

The whole concept also returns to the question of “what is normal?” when it comes to food, size or sex.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.


2 Responses to “A Pill for Every Ill?”
  1. Sue says:

    This ‘Stepford Wives’ science is a real horror story in the making! Thanks for a balanced opinion on yet another potential pharmaceutical nightmare.

  2. Richard Petty says:

    Dear Sue,

    Thank you so much for your comment: I couldn’t agree more about the lovely phrase that you used: “Stepford Wives” science.

    Kind regards,


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