John O'Dea was born in the south of Ireland. He was raised and educated in Dublin, where he received his undergraduate and medical education at the National University of Ireland.
Upon graduation from medical school, he moved to the US. He served his internship and residency in Internal Medicine at St. Luke's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. He then went on to receive full training in Endocrinology and Metabolism through a NIH fellowship at Case Western Reserve University. Following the completion of this two-year endocrine fellowship, which involved both clinical and research experience, he moved to the Los Angeles area, where he is in private practice.
Several factors have, over the years, pressed O'Dea, despite his commitment to the scientific method, to move to the beat of a different drummer. Experiences in his own practice told him that modern medicine had many deficiencies. It often painted simplistic, linear pictures of a complex reality, then treated the maps and forgot the territory. It was too analytic and insufficiently inductive. It iconized structure and components while ignoring process and systems. Many patients, particularly women, got no answers out of this traditional form of medicine. When standard treatments such as hormones for menopause caused them intolerable side effects, their complaints were ignored. They were frequently dismissed with meaningless labels, often pejorative, frequently psychiatric. Unfortunately these women became the vanguard of a flight from science, moving from the reductionist right to the irrational left, seeking any port in a storm. What they got was touted as "natural" and seemed user friendly. It eliminated the side effects of mainstream drugs but it was irrational and devoid of real help despite its convincing veneer of junk science and voodoo logic. Today's patients deserve better and O'Dea has spent the past twenty years finding it for them.
It has been O'Dea's privilege over the years to receive a novel understanding of the mind-body, one based on reason rather than nebulous new age nonsense. It became obvious to him that our body's hormones, particularly the steroid hormones of the adrenal and sexual organs were much more powerful than doctors had always thought. That far from simply supporting the body physically during periods of stress and sexuality, these potent chemicals had a massive impact on the brain, acting as the glue that bound mind to body and body to mind. And this effect was not just one that occurred over the long term, slowly altering, for example, breast size or skin oiliness, but one that in an exciting way, impacted on people emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally and physically, from moment to moment. These chemicals didn't just color the backdrop, they figured into every little piece of the action.
To O'Dea the implications were enormous. It became clear to him that a woman could have too much of the very hormones that gave her femininity. She could become intoxicated by her own estrogen, or experience estrogen withdrawal symptoms not unlike those seen in drug addicts withdrawing from narcotics. Or the abnormal pattern of a person's hormones might lead to the appearance of immune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, conditions seemingly unrelated in any way to sexuality. And since hormone disturbances could make one depressed, even psychotic, it followed that hormone modulation might cure these problems. Sure enough, O'Dea found that by re-balancing hormone imbalances or stabilizing erratic hormonal patterns, he could control mood and behavioral problems and often dispense with the mind numbing impact of psychotropic drugs. Resistant physical problems such as obesity, headache, arthritis, angina or constipation, had a hidden hormonal connection that allowed them to be approached from a whole new angle, unique to women.
Realizing the new power of hormones allowed O'Dea to design new models that linked mind with body. Far from fleeing from science, these models embraced it, in a new and complex form. Acting like Rosetta stones, his elegant models allowed sex hormones and their patterns to become the language that made sense out of so many health problems, mental, physical and "psychosomatic", and they offered the possibility of real, effective prevention.
O'Dea has been married since 1976. His wife Carol, a native of New Jersey, has a doctorate in Institutional Management and is a consultant in health care. They have two teenagers, one in high school and the other in college. O'Dea is an avid reader, especially of history, and has a deep interest in Asian philosophy, particularly Chinese Zen of the Tang period. He continues to research the role of hormones as part of a kinetic vision of the mind-body and is currently writing a book. He is an experienced interviewer, having been on both Dateline NBC and BBC TV.