The #MeToo Movement and Pituitary Disorders

From Linda M. Rio, MA, Marriage & Family Therapist –  This past weekend I participated, along with thousands of women and men in the Women’s March. I had the distinct honor to be accompanied by not only my daughter but two of my adult granddaughters so the event was particularly special for me. The event we participated in not only focused much on politics but a wide variety of social issues relating to not only women but the community at large and really had a positive rather than negative tone with an emphasis on hearing all voices. The event we attended was in the city of Ventura, California, the site of recent devastating wildfires and then mudslides. From the park where we all gathered we could see the charred hillsides above. A special and emotional tribute was given to the victims, firefighters, first responders, and volunteers.

One of the speakers then spoke about changes that had come about as a potential result of last year’s march which included the recent #MeToo movement of those in Hollywood and elsewhere who have spoken-up about having been victims of sexual or other abuses. The speaker then asked all in attendance, if they were willing, to raise their hands if they either had been a victim of abuse or knew someone. As I scanned to the large crowd in this public park nearly all hands raised high, I suddenly began to sob uncontrollably. One of my granddaughters standing next to me noticed and asked if I was OK and put her arm around me to provide comfort. Through my tears I told her that my tears were imagining the hundreds, maybe thousands of therapy clients I had seen over the years who had so painfully, and very privately shared their stories of abuse to me and that I wished they could be here to finally see a public acknowledgment, proclamation of their pain that had been hidden in secret because society was not ready to believe them or hear their voices.  And at this moment people were validating not only the existence of abuse but willing to do so openly!

Through my tears I told her that my tears were imagining the hundreds, maybe thousands of therapy clients I had seen over the years who had so painfully, and very privately shared their stories of abuse to me and that I wished they could be here to finally see a public acknowledgment, proclamation of their pain that had been hidden in secret because society was not ready to believe them or hear their voices.

Dr. Luis G. Sobrinho, an endocrinologist in Portugal and contributor to my book, has written about the association between psychological distress, abuse, and pituitary disorders. He describes a study of those with hyperprolactinemia who were interviewed extensively resulting in an observed pattern of menstrual disturbances, amenorrhea and galactorrhea, weight gain, headaches, sexual dysfunction as symptoms which developed. A pattern for these patients showed a history of being brought up without a father or with a violent, often alcoholic father (Sobrinho, 2014, p107).  He further describes a systematic study was then designed to further explore this finding using control as well as patient groups. The absence of a father or exposure to an alcoholic, violent one during childhood was significantly more common in patients than in controls- this was true for patients with prolactinomas and idiopathic hyperprolactinemia (Nunes et al, 1980).  Dr. Sobrinho also cites his additional study which demonstrated that paternal deprivation early in life was significantly more frequent for both males and females with prolactinomas and acromegaly as compared with control groups and patients with nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas (Sobrinho et al, 2012).

The amygdala is the area of the brain often called the fear center which helps not only sense danger but also evaluate a stress level and then begin a process for the body to deal with a real or perceived threat. Pituitary hormones activate the limbic system, including the amygdala and the brain stem, triggering the sympathetic nervous system (Ratey,2002). A study published in the Jan. 11, 2017, issue of The Lancet, reports heightened activity in the amygdala was linked to increased bone-marrow activity and inflammation in the arteries leading to a higher risk of heart attack as well as other cardiovascular events. The study also reported that those with anxiety and other stress disorders tend to have higher levels of activity in this area of the brain. Another study shows early life stress such as childhood neglect results in a life-long elevation of glucocorticoid secretion and a disruption in the normal stress response (Medina (2010). Psychiatrist, and another contributor to my book, Dr. Robert S. Hoffman, states that diseases of the pituitary cause physical and emotional/behavioral alterations, including changes in appearance, fluctuations in weight, sexual function, motivation, energy, mood, memory, and socialization (Hoffman, 214).  But what we still need to explore – given the importance of the pituitary in response to stress, and the particular vulnerability of stress to the developing brains of children – is there more to be researched in terms of the intensity of all forms of abuse on the body and mind. The #Me Too movement has brought to light that sexual and all forms of abuse are not limited to Hollywood or the famous. The “women’s” marches have shown a recognition of not only the large numbers of adults and children subjected to abuse, but hopefully a need to explore just how such hurt and the resulting silence it engenders may affect not only individuals emotionally, but their bodies and minds long, long after the abuse has stopped. For many women and men, the nation, and worldwide march gave a voice and hope that one day there will be no more abuse. For some pituitary patients perhaps this will ring true for them as well.

References

Media, J.J. (2010). The epigenetics of stress. Psychiatric Times, 27. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from www.psychiatrictimes.com/traumatic-strss-disorders/content/article/10168/1550433

Nunes, M.C.P., Sobrinho, L.G., Calhaz-Jorge, C., Santos, M.A., Mauricio, J.C., & Sousa, M.F.F. (1980). Psychosomatic factors in patients with hyperprolactinemia and/or galactorrhea. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 55, 5, 591-595.

Ratey, J.J. (2002). A user’s guide to the brain. New York: Vintage Press.

Sobrinho, L.G. (2014). Sychological factors andpituitary disease: The chicken and the egg. In L.Rio (ed.) The hormone factor in mental health: Bridging the mind-body gap (pp105-118). London: Jessica Kigsley.

Sobrinho, LG., Duarte, J.S., Paiva, I., Gomes, L., Vicente, V., & Aguiar, P. (2012). Paternal deprivation prior to adolescence and vulnerability to pituitary adenomas. Pituitary, 15, 2, 25-257.

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