What happens when humans live outside their evolutionary biology? Do we even know how we have evolved to become the complex beings we are today? Maybe the problem is that we’ve become so incredibly intelligent, that we are the only species on this planet capable of controlling our environment, and living outside of our evolutionary biology.
Let’s examine what happens to animals when they are placed in captivity in a Zoo. They are confined to cages that do not allow them to explore, hunt and roam free. They have feeding schedules rather than ad libitum. They often have artificial lighting and heating sources instead of the sun. They are taken care of by humans and have lost control of their own functions. Could they even thrive if you let them lose, or would they have forgotten their instincts? They would likely need to relearn how to be “wild”.
This probably sounds awful to you, and yet very familiar. Humans today spend more time indoors under artificial conditions than outside getting fresh air and natural sunlight exposure. Our brain’s have a difficult time adapting to an environment that could change in a matter of seconds, because we can be exposed to bright light at midnight, or eat carbohydrates in the dead of winter when no plant food can physically grow. Not to mention, the amount of processing that occurs to make the foods we love to eat. Were they even made via photosynthesis from sunlight? Or maybe they were produced in a lab under fake lighting? Can we truly thrive when our biological clocks are no longer ticking to the rhythms of Mother Nature? With the click of a button we can turn night into day, and winter into summer.
What are the consequences of these mismatches? Well, the leptin melanocortin pathway is designed to do something special as you learned about in part 3. When we sleep at night in darkness, melatonin drops our core temperature and this allows us to tap this pathway, because as mentioned, cold liberates fat as heat from storage, and leptin gets released. This is why sleep is so critical. Everybody knows it, but most people do not know why. Now you have some context. The same mechanism occurs in winter when the light is weaker, and the temperature drops. Our skin needs to direct heat towards it and that heat comes from stored energy within us.
When light enters the retina of our eye, it triggers an awakening response. You learned that VIP (vasoactive intestinal peptide) entrains our circadian rhythms to light in part 3 and VIP is what directs blood flow to our digestive system. This means that light through our eye is going to have a massive effect on our feeding patterns and has the potential to induce hunger. Ever wonder why you can’t kick your midnight cravings when you’ve spent several hours beyond sunset starring at some sort of LED screen? It’s because you’ve inhibited the leptin melanocortin pathway by stimulating your brain through the light that enters your eye. Prolonged daily light exposure increases body fat mass through attenuation of brown adipose tissue activity. Basically, light at night encourages fat gain because we cannot activate the leptin melanocortin pathway which helps us express BAT to burn off our excess calories at heat, and keep us lean.
Additionally, the fact that carbohydrates can be eaten anytime of the year leads to NPY stimulation that drive cravings. Cravings that should not normally exist under conditions of winter. The carbohydrates keep our circadian clocks entrained to light when it is not present in the amounts required to keep us well via the leptin melanocortin pathway. This is another reason seasonal affective disorder exists, and why humans tend to eat more food in the winter as comfort. When we lack energy from our environment, we must make up the difference. The difference lies in the energy stored in fat mass of mammals who fattened on carbohydrates in the fall.
Why do carbs fatten mammals in the fall? Because the energy from the sun is dramatically lower, and we cannot harvest enough light to liberate the energy from the carbs we eat, and the energy has to be stored for later use. Mother Nature built this fattening mechanism into mammals, and it was designed to be a temporary occurrence, because once the snow hits and all the fruits have fallen, we are forced to fast, and adapt to both cold and famine. As mentioned in previous blogs, this is the switch we need to now tap into the energy stored in our fat mass. The temperature gradient (i.e. cold on our skin) drives the flow of energy from within us to the outside, and our fat mass dissipates as heat. The leptin melanocortin pathway is the biochemical pathway that explains how the physics works within our body.
Now ask yourself why so many struggle with obesity, or other illnesses related to energy and metabolism? It is because modern life lives indoors, with controlled thermostats, and fake lights to keep this biochemical pathway buried in our brains. This type of environment mimics fall fattening YEARROUND. So we continue to store fat, and we lack the sun’s power to liberate that energy to run the biochemistry in us for wellness, and nobody enjoys conquering the cold, so we cannot use that simple physics concept to release heat from deep within our tissues to tap into this useable energy.
What is the take home? Spend more time outdoors ALWAYS. Keep the lights off always, and appreciate the NATURAL light from our sun. Work within the scheduled hours of the sun, NOT man’s ideals of how we should work. Follow Mother Nature’s rules and eat seasonal: what’s cooking in Mother Nature’s kitchen is always safe, fad diets recommended by man cannot be trusted on the otherhand because they do not consider how photosynthesis forms ALL the foodwebs on our earth. This process is controlled by the power of sunlight, in case you didn’t know that.
Seasons are transitions of the solar and geothermal cycles. They occur every year, and Mother Nature allows us to adapt to these subtle changes, but we must experience them. As the temperature slowly drops and we allow our brain to perceive these changes, all the hardwiring begins to take place to be able to adapt and cope to these changes. All it takes is getting outside, and getting out of nature’s way. The adaptations are buried in our genes. Conquering nature and embracing its wonders is the only way to activate them.