Darkness and the Magic of Melatonin

Darkness is something we seem to instinctively avoid. Why shouldn’t we? The brightest light in nature is the sun, and the sun reduces all-cause mortality. That is a fancy way of saying that the sun reduces your risk of death. End of story. We are being frightened by dermatologists and other doctors in modern times into avoiding the sun, but they are completely missing this simple, miraculous fact. Just like moths to a flame, we are drawn to any light, because light enables us to work, and work is what we have to do to survive and to thrive on planet earth. However, we all know that we can easily work ourselves to death, and this is why so many people today are struggling to survive to the same age as their parents or grandparents, who grew up in an age of relative darkness.

Sunlight protects us from death. The more sun you get, the lower your chances of developing:

Diabetes, type 1 or 2
Cancer, and even skin cancer so long as you avoid getting sunburned...

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Hibernation, Sleep, and the Arctic Winter

The last blog post discussed how the Arctic winter creates the perfect circumstances for polar bears to repair their metabolic machinery. Read it before you read this blog post.

To understand how polar bears fall apart each year, only to put themselves back together again while they sleep, you have to understand hibernation. Debate in fact continues as to whether or not polar bears are “true” hibernators, for reasons that are academic. Polar bears go to sleep for weeks, or even months, at a time in the darkness of the Arctic winter. Pregnant females fast during the winter for longer than any other mammal on earth.

Hibernation refers to a period of rest that is remarkably similar to sleep. When bears hibernate, they do not wake up feeling “hungry.” They do not feel hungry before resting either. They keep warm by burning fat for heat in the mitochondria of their brown fat. They also produce all of the water that they need with this process. During hibernation,...

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Winter: The Antidote to an Endless Summer

As the earth tilts away from the sun on its axis, the days shorten and temperatures drop. The leaves fall. Growing things disappear beneath snow and ice. Water freezes over. Life seems to come to a standstill. We call this season winter.

As the days shorten and temperatures drop, food becomes scarce. Polar bears prepare to den. Whenever a warm-blooded animal is exposed to cold, it triggers a cascade of biophysical effects. Cold immediately activates brown fat, which sits over the spinal cord and burns fat to generate heat. Brown fat allows warm-blooded animals to survive ice ages and Arctic winters. As temperatures continue to drop, brown fat grows in size and power. Brown fat is what burns the 50% of a polar bear’s body weight that it loses during winter hibernation.

The light of summer slowly fades into the darkness of winter. Light is the signal for wakefulness, and as this signal wanes, sleep nears. Only in the absence of light can the hormone of sleep that we call “melatonin” be...

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The Ills of an Endless Summer

The earth orbits around the sun, turning on its axis once every 24-hours. We call this one “day.” As the earth orbits the sun, it wobbles on its axis. This “wobble” creates the seasons. As the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun, it gets more sunlight. The days grow longer. As the earth wobbles back, the Southern Hemisphere tilts toward the sun, and it gets more sunlight. As each hemisphere tilts away from the sun, winter descends as sunlight wanes and days shorten.

As the sun grows stronger in the Spring, the world starts to wake up. Snow melts. Frozen rivers run free again. Trees bud, grass grows, and flowers appear. Birds return with the sun. So do migrating animals like elk and salmon.
Polar bears emerge from their dens in the Spring, once the worst of winter is behind them. They are lean after a winter without food. They travel across the melting sea ice, searching for their first meal of Spring. While their first meals are few and far between, food...

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