What happens when Achilles, Aphrodite and a pack of Wild Dogs dance together in the man’s body?
Anabolic steroid: Testosterone / Achilles
Testosterone is the magic mojo juice a male runs on. I call testosterone the Achilles of hormones. Imagine Achilles on the verge of charging onto the battlefield; his muscles flexing as he swings his sword, his body tense and taunt, his attention focussed on the enemy. He exudes confidence and animal sex appeal. He is fighting fit, aggressive, ready to take enormous risks and on a winning streak. He feels invincible. This is what manhood is all about.
Testosterone causes major changes in Achilles’ organs: his bones become denser and his muscle leaner, it increases his haemoglobin to produce clotting agents in his blood to prevent bleeding of wounds. He breathes deeper and faster, promoting oxygen uptake in his blood. His eyes focus only on the enemy directly in front of him. His mood changes to aggression, a sexual predator, prone to sexual fantasies and he is motivated to challenge rivals. Achilles moves with confidence, talks with authority, seeks sex and challenges Hades himself.
Testosterone motivates a man to fight and to win. Imagine Achilles meeting Aphrodite / Dopamine in the nucleus accumbens – the thrill centre of the brain. Winning becomes so thrilling he becomes addicted to it. Even spectators watching their teams win experience an increase in testosterone.
This winning effect reaches beyond the arena of the sports fields, but also to the sales floor, the stock market and even the upper echelons of the business fraternity where multi-billion dollar deals are clinched.
Cambridge scientists found that when traders’ testosterone levels test high in the morning, they make more money on the stock exchange that day. When Brazil beat Italy in the World Cup Final 1994, the average testosterone levels of Brazilian fans increased by 28%, compared to the 27 decrease of the Italian men. A testosterone surge before a competition increases chances of winning and definitely promotes a winning streak. A surge of testosterone after a single victory can last a few months.
However at some point the elevated testosterone levels override the rational neo-cortex. These men begin to believe themselves as invincible, omnipotent, and power giants. They believe they cannot only conquer the world but that they own the world. They sleep less, become more and more driven and their over-confidence pollutes their business relations and leading to disastrous leadership. Alan Greenspan referred to this phenomenon as “irrational exuberance”. Women are not prone to the condition as they do not produce the same levels of testosterone as men. In this case, men are more “hormonal” than women!
When a testosterone empowered man enters a room, a subordinate male will experience a drop in testosterone and an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol affects the hippocampus, or memory centre as well as other prefrontal cortex functions. The subordinate male will fumble, stumble over his words, act awkwardly and probably have little memory of the social blunders he committed.
When men lose – or their team loses – their testosterone levels plummet. Achilles bites the dust. Man-down. A drop in testosterone causes irritable male syndrome, they become moody, withdrawn, depressed and miserable. They lack motivation, have low libido, lose interest in sex and in life in general. A remedy would be to get them active, doing things they are good at doing and exposing them to sunshine. Beer is not a good idea, since it contains oestrogen.
Men produce ten times more testosterone than women, but there is a little Achilles in every woman too. Testosterone in men is produced in the testes and adrenals. In women it is produced in the ovaries and adrenals. An enzyme called aromatase can affect testosterone, turning it into the female oestrogen. Fat cells contain aromatase, which is why obese men often grow breasts. This phenomenon is called gynaecomastia.
How fast …
The time span between the hypothalamus signalling the glands to produce testosterone and the actual effect of it, can take up to fifteen minutes or hours. By age 30 a man’s testosterone production begins to decline and he is more rational and cognitive about the risks he is willing to take, than when he was a teenager and his hormones ruled his brain.
How sexy …
All erotic stimuli – what we see, hear, smell, feel, taste or touch – are first recorded by the thalamus. This triggers a release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens – the thrill centre. Enter Aphrodite … The hypothalamus sends the signal to release testosterone – enter Achilles. The man will require energy for this venture, so adrenaline is released as well – enter the cheetahs. However, if he is too stressed, – detection of wild dogs – blood will not flow to the male genitals – he needs to be relaxed and in the parasympathetic nervous system, to obtain an erection.
(In the sympathetic / stressed nervous system, blood is redirected to the muscles and limbs needed to fight – men do not fight battles with their erections.) To achieve ejaculation, he needs to switch back to the sympathetic nervous system. The cerebellum controls the muscles involved in the contractions, producing the orgasm and this reptile brain activity dampens the prefrontal and temporal higher brain functions, allowing more uninhibited behaviour. An orgasm will release the oxytocin hormone, causing bonding with his partner. Oxytocin releases opiates in the brain, suppressing pain. Sex is good for pain relief.
Catabolic steroid: Cortisol / Wild dogs
Cortisol is the pack of wild dogs released by the gonads. If not kept on leash, they will attack the body from the inside and devour it with ruthless fervour. Initially, when the pack of wild dogs raise their snouts, sniff the wind and jog at a checked steady pace, cortisol, in combination with dopamine, can increase arousal, focus attention and activate a man’s senses. It makes him feel alive and alert and full of anticipation.
Cortisol works in conjunction with adrenalin, but the cheetahs soon tire and then the cortisol pack of wild dogs have free range and cause havoc in the man’s body. It attacks his digestive system, causing gastric ulcers, stunts growth, and attacks his immune system. It can damage his heart. It raids energy stores, the liver, muscles and fat cells, fervently searching for glucose. It will attack his muscles and turn them into glucose and energy, to feed its wild frenzy. He becomes anxious, paranoid, his memory fails, he becomes over-emotional when his emotional amygdala overrides his rational neo-cortex, and he becomes practically physically and mentally exhausted. It literally causes the dendrites in the brain to shrivel up. Cortisol eats his muscles and his brain.
The lethal combination of cortisol, dopamine and adrenalin cause the conquering warrior effect, but we cannot attempt to conquer Olympus and not anger the gods, so inevitably there follows the spectacular crash and burn. The after effects of the cortisol pack of wild dogs, leave a battlefield scarred with mutilated, ruined men.
Dopamine / Aphrodite
Dopamine is the Aphrodite of the neurotransmitters. She is alluring, she will seduce him and excite him. Dopamine is the anticipation of pleasure and the rewards it promises, she motivates him to move towards that which he desires. She creates euphoria and he becomes addicted to the anticipation, the wanting, the desire, the craving, not necessarily the reward. Dopamine calls him to the hunt and to be excited by the novelty and unexpected pleasure that awaits him. As soon as he becomes used to the reward, the dopamine loses her allure and he becomes bored.
When there is an unexpected reward, the dopamine surge is greater. It is smaller when there is an expected reward. The reward can be anything from sex, securing a major deal, to scoring a goal in sport. Also when there is an expected disappointment, the dopamine drop is minimal. An unexpected disappointment will cause a major drop in dopamine in the thrill centres of the brain.
Too little dopamine leads to that awful feeling where he has nothing to look forward to. Without dopamine he experiences no pleasure, no motivation and he will stay static. A coach potato man, lying on his back all day watching television, growing fatter and becoming more and more miserable, is a typical example of man lacking dopamine and testosterone.
Aphrodite’s danger lies in her addictive powers. She can enslave him. Men can become addicted to winning, to sex, to power as they become addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Too much exposure to dopamine stimuli causes a depletion of dopamine. Too much of a good thing becomes boring. Nothing can excite these men anymore and they take bigger risks, but with less judgement, to experience the euphoria of winning. When that fails they may fall prey to designer drugs to relieve the boredom and create excitement.
Reckless risk taking leads to mistakes and downfall. This is when they trip over their own ego’s. Not every disgraced business tycoon exits on a blaze of glory, they crash and burn on a spectacular level. Achilles paid the price for hubris – he knew he was doomed, and displayed a fatalistic attitude to dangerous risk and died by the arrow of Apollo.
Take me back: Virile Heroes – Impotency