SUNLIGHT
© Jasper Boer on Unsplash
AM sunlight is my drug of choice
How do you know you are sick? We call the manifestations of disease "signs and symptoms." We know them by their hallmarks of pain, swelling, redness, and heat. These signs and symptoms are synonymous with what we call "inflammation." The signs and symptoms of disease can be debilitating, and life must quickly recover, or die.

How does life maintain its functions in the face of the stresses of our external environment? Life triages resources to meet threats and counter stress, in order to prevent signs and symptoms of disease from manifesting. Life does this until it exhausts all available resources.

Why would life exhaust itself completely to prevent all signs or symptoms of disease? Life must maintain its vital functions at all costs. It only takes hours without water, days without food, and as little as minutes of over-exposure to heat or cold for our bodily functions to be severely impaired. As our bodily functions become impaired, we gradually lose our ability to restore those functions. Even minor impairments to life's faculties, like slowed reaction times or decreased visual acuity, can mean the difference between finding food or escaping a predator. This means that any symptom of disease can change life's chances of survival.

Life finds a balance with its environment, within which its needs are readily met in the right time and season. The polar bear gets fat and diabetic in the bright Arctic summer, but then reverses these diseases in the long, cold winter. Life must keep its skin in the game for this balance to persist. If the polar bear moves indoors, to live under fake light, eating bananas and guacamole instead of seals and moose, then the polar bear will be unprepared for winter. Life hides disease as long as it can to give itself time to obtain what it needs from nature. Polar bears do not seem to mind that over the summer they become fat and diabetic. If they were to divorce themselves from nature, eventually they would begin to suffer from the diseases of diabetes and obesity with the same complications experienced by humans. The polar bears triage their resources based on the abundance of resources in the environment. When resources are abundant, life stores them for later use, rather than using them immediately. Our livers store fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D and vitamin B-12, so that we will not become deficient during the winter.


Comment: How modern life effects even the animal world is evident: Fruit is now so full of sugar it's damaging the health of Zoo animals


Life has many functions, not all of which are vital to survival. Many of life's functions relate to longevity, rather than immediate function. Vitamin K provides an example of this, and this is where the word "triage" first emerged to describe a phenomena that seems intuitive to us.

Vitamin K occurs in many varieties, each of which has different capabilities. The most vital function of vitamin K is to help our blood clot. The drug warfarin (also known as coumadin) acts by depleting vitamin K levels in the body, which thins the blood. Beyond clotting, vitamin K is required for many pathways having to do with longevity, specifically with the metabolism of calcium. Vitamin K helps our bodies to deposit calcium where it belongs — in our bones and teeth. Vitamin K also prevents calcium from depositing in places like our kidneys and ureters, where it often forms kidney stones, or in our arteries, as we see in coronary artery disease or valvular heart disease. These diseases claim many lives each year.

Vitamin K1 is found in green, leafy vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in organ meats, natto, and hard cheeses. By abandoning these foods in favor of highly processed fake food, modern humans have dramatically reduced their consumption of vitamins K1 and K2.

How does life deal with a reduced supply of any given resource? Life has to make do with less. In the case of vitamin K, the body uses whatever vitamin K is available to ensure that clotting continues to function as needed. The functions of vitamin K that prevent osteoporosis (weak bones), arterial or cardiac valve calcification (heart disease), or kidney stones are abandoned. When vitamin K is supplied to the system in adequate quantities, life resumes these processes. We are living through epidemics of diseases that have been linked to low levels of vitamin K, indicating that levels in much of the population are chronically low. The consequences of this manifest over decades, and we may only become aware of deficiency when it is too late.

Detecting these deficiencies presents a dilemma. The body will not show signs of symptoms vitamin K deficiency until late in life, when kidney stones, heart attacks, or broken bones may suddenly reveal a disease that life has hidden for years or decades. Even when we test for deficiency, how do we define it? How much of any nutrient is enough to maximize longevity? How much is too much? Is there such a thing?

Polar bears do not worry about vitamin K deficiency, because they are adapted to the levels they encounter in their environment, eating a local, seasonal diet and living a local, seasonal life. They keep their skin in the game, obtaining what they need as they need it from their environment.

When life removes its skin from the game, it can uncouple these coupled systems. This leads to mismatches in the supply and demand of life's essential nutrients, from sunlight to vitamin K. Life must have skin in the game to get it needs to live not only for today, but for a long time. When life keeps its skin in the game, its coupled systems remain coupled, and life can thrive.

When environmental stress exhausts the body's resources, symptoms of disease manifest. Yet in the right dose, stress strengthens life. The signals life receives from the environment, through the skin, are "stressful." Removing stress leaves life without the proper signals to decide what to do next. When life has skin in the game, life inevitably experience stress. Not only is this inevitable, it is necessary for health and longevity, because life has built stress into the recipe for life. This is why exercise, hard work, sunlight, sauna, cold exposure and fasting may all confer longevity in moderation, and a swift demise in sudden excess.

Why does life require stress to remain healthy and to achieve long life? How does life turn stress into strength?

That is the topic of next week's blog.
References:

McCann, Joyce C., and Bruce N. Ames. "Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging?." The American journal of clinical nutrition 90.4 (2009): 889-907.

McCann, Joyce C., and Bruce N. Ames. "Adaptive dysfunction of selenoproteins from the perspective of the triage theory: why modest selenium deficiency may increase risk of diseases of aging." The FASEB Journal 25.6 (2011): 1793-1814.
This blog post is from my upcoming book, "Life: A Brief Explanation." Sign up for my newsletter at stillmanmd.com to learn more.

Leland Stillman, MD Allergy and Immunology, University of Mississippi 2021. Quantum biology. StillmanMD.com.