Study: Older men with high levels of sex hormones less religious

MONTREAL — For older men, faith may have more to do with hormones than the holiness of their lives. A study by researchers at McGill University in Canada found a possible connection between the levels of the sex hormones testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and how religious men are.

These findings add to the growing evidence that religiosity is not exclusively influenced by childhood upbringing or psychological makeup; rather, physiological factors could be just as influential.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2005-06 and 2010-11 editions of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, originally conceived to collect information from older American adults aged 57 to 85 at baseline. Participants filled out questionnaires describing how often they attend religious services and whether they had a member of the clergy in their core social network. Researchers also collected information about each participant’s weight and health, along with blood and saliva samples.

After analyzing more than 1,000 men from the national study, the research team found that individuals with higher levels of testosterone and DHEA in their bodies showed lower religiosity.

“Religion influences a range of cultural and political patterns at the population level. Results from the current study indicate the latter may also have hormonal roots,” explains lead author Aniruddha Das in a news release. “There is therefore a need for conceptual models that can accommodate the dynamic interplay of psychosocial and neuroendocrine factors in shaping a person’s life cycle.”

Because the findings are strictly observational, Das hopes future studies can dig deeper into the unusual connection, particularly since embracing religion has been shown to have uplifting effects on older adults.

The study was published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology.