Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Vitamin D and Melatonin from Sunshine: Stop the Epidemic of Skeletal and Sleep Disorders

I don't need to do research to know that I'm living in the middle of an epidemic of skeletal problems and sleep disorders among the over 50 crowd. Every gathering brings news from people I know about scheduling surgery to fix some kind of joint or skeletal problem and other people complaining about how they don't sleep well anymore. The unspoken assumption is that these problems can not be prevented or reversed. Medical pills and procedures are the only options. The major culprit is age - human beings weren't meant to live past 50. These statements are hypothesis, not natural law. If you asked me, I'd say many of our ancestors lived tough lives and put lots more stress on their skeletons in 30 years than we ever would today even in 300 years. For a long time, my hypothesis has been that something has changed about the environment we live in today that is responsible for these problems. Now I have an idea about what it might be. Sunshine has profound effects on our metabolism. I've recently been studying melatonin and vitamin D3, two hormones regulated by exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D3 is produced in the skin by UVB radiation from the sun. The amplitude of the "melatonin wave" that underlies the circadian rhythm - the chemical signal that orchestrates the transition from awake to asleep to back awake again - varies depending on the difference in intensity between the brightest light we see during the daytime and the darkness of night time. Sunlight is also known to alleviate/eliminate allergies, to cause special cells in the skin to produce the alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone (so sunshine has been proven by science to cause the produce of at least three hormones!), to cause the production of a couple of neuropeptides, and to cause the release of endorphins. So while you're in the sun getting vitamin D, you'll also be producing a variety of other regulatory chemicals essential for optimal health. I'm continuing to look for other hormones influenced by sunshine, and other effects of sun exposure, and I'm expecting to find some. What I like about this idea is that it is way outside the mainstream. I don't know anyone, who knows anyone, who is really worried that she/he is spending too much time indoors. In fact, just the opposite. I see more and more people avoiding the sun and more and more people wearing shaded glasses or glasses that automatically tint when you walk out into the bright light. Based on what I've read and how I feel, I'm going the other way. I'm spending more and more time outside (still, however, just a small fraction of the day) and intentionally staring into the bright sky to get a really strong signal into my pineal gland during the small fraction of the day that I can spend outside. Vitamin D and melatonin are powerful hormones. By largely moving indoors thanks to office work, the internet, the ipad, legitimate fear of skin cancer, and air conditioning, we are, like it or not, changing the amounts of vitamin D and melatonin that we produce. Vitamin D and melatonin both play central roles regulating sleep, and healthy sleep is needed for optimal healing (see you tube videos by sleep specialist gominak). If you've got a problem with your teeth or your joints, you've got much to gain and little to lose by spending more time outside in the sun during the middle of the day.