We all know we don't get enough sleep. What we don't know is that there is a killer connection between sleep, food, light, and health. And that when it comes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression, you need to rethink everything you know. Based on years of research at the National Institute of Health, Kept in the Dark will tell you: -- Why weight-loss is as easy as the flick of a switch -- Why researchers can give mice cancer just by leaving the lights on -- Why exercise can really give you a heart attack -- Why Type II diabetes has increased four-fold and why you're next -- Why you're overproducing sex hormones but you're too tired to want sex -- Why infertility plagues Baby Boomers -- Why we're a Prozac Nation and still fight depression constantly -- Why you'll go the way of the dinosaurs if you don't eat and sleep in sync with the spin of the planet
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T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, Ph.D., are researchers who worked together at the Sansum Medical Research Institute at Santa Barbara, California, the site of cutting-edge diabetes research since insulin was first synthesized there in the 1920s. T.S. Wiley is an anthropologist and medical theorist with a background in investigative journalism, currently working in medical research with a special interest in endocrinology/evolutionary biology. Bent Formby holds doctorates in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology. Their research has been presented at national and international medical conferences, and in scientific journals.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: WE WANT TO BELIEVE: The Church of False Gods
At sometime in the past, scientists discovered that time flows more slowly the farther from the center of the earth. The effect is minuscule, but it can be measured with extremely sensitive instruments. Once the phenomenon was known, a few people, anxious to stay young, moved to the mountains.
Now all houses are built on Dom, the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, and other high ground. It is impossible to sell living quarters elsewhere...To get the maximum effect, they have constructed their houses on stilts...People eager to live the longest have built their houses on the highest stilts...They celebrate their youth and walk around naked on their balconies...
In time, people have forgotten the reason that higher is better. Nonetheless, they continue to teach their children to shun other children from lower elevations. They have even convinced themselves that the thin air is good for their bodies, and following that logic, have gone on sparse diets, refusing all but the most gossamer food. At length, the populace have become thin like air, bony and old before their time. -Alan Lightman,
In Woody Allen's classic film Sleeper, Miles Monroe, health-food-store owner and clarinetist, checks into Saint Vincent's Hospital in 1977 for a routine procedure. He has a peptic ulcer. When he awakens two hundred years later, he discovers he's died, and a caring aunt has placed him in cryogenic suspension.
The plot thickens when two renegade scientists illegally defrost him to take advantage of the fact that he is a numerical nonentity and, as such, can help them overthrow the fascist regime controlling America in 2173. We eavesdrop as they discuss his progress:
"Has he asked for anything special?"
"For breakfast, he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk."
"Ahh, yes, yes, back then people thought of such things as charmed substances that contained life-preserving properties."
"You mean there was no deep fat, no steak, or hot fudge?"
"Oh, no, those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true."
What's most unnerving about this snippet of filmdom? That social security numbers classify every citizen in a Big Brother-like computer bank, that a fascist regime is controlling America, or that The New England Journal of Medicine released a study in 1998 concluding that fat may actually protect you from heart disease? Could the 1970's nutritional wisdom we've been relying on for decades be completely bogus?
What's next? Sleep more or you'll get cancer?
Consider the last statement prophetic.
Later, Miles/Woody watches Diane Keaton's character light up a cigarette for medicinal purposes and moans:
"How could we have been so wrong? Everybody knew fat and caffeine were toxic substances!"
"Miles, everybody knows that the only things that have kept mankind alive are coffee, cigarettes, and red meat!"
Somehow that's not as funny, now that it might be true.
Coffee and cigarettes certainly seem to keep the French alive. They even look better than we do. In this same tragicomic scenario, the wheat grass and tiger's milk are thinly veiled doppelgangers for our salads and Balance bars. In the 1970s, salads and Balance bars definitely would have been classified as "health food" for "health nuts." Everyone was very comfortable with the fact that there were "health nuts" and there were the rest of us. Today, if you're not into your health, you're considered nuts.
Today, everything is labeled "low-fat," "fat-free," "99% fat free," or "30% lower in fat," in an attempt to qualify as "health" food. Even fruit juice and dried pasta are sold as "fat-free," because we're all nuts. Your doctor and the media docs on TV all say, even after Dr. Atkins, Protein Power, and Enter the Zone have proven otherwise, that you can't get enough high-quality carbohydrates to lose weight unless you consume
They never even figure in the Pepsi, Coke, Snapple, honey in your tea, and the high-fructose corn syrup that shows up as a preservative in almost all processed food. Now, let's imagine all of the food they've recommended piled up on the table (because it would never fit on your plate). Doesn't that seem like a lot?
What if all those low-fat promises of a long, cancer-free, diabetes-free lift in a beautiful, thin body, run by a strong, clear, non-hypertensive heart, were bogus from the start? What if carbohydrates, not fat, were the cause of obesity, diabetes, and cancer?
THE GOD MODULE
We think it's the exercise that's the key to why you feel so good while you're dying. It's also the reason why some people are able to stay on a low-fat regimen long enough to kill themselves. What could make a person do this?
The desire to be thin and well? No way.
Michael Persinger, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at Laurentian University in Canada, has isolated an area of neurons in the brain's temporal lobes that repeatedly fire bursts of electrical activity when one thinks about God or has any feelings of spirituality. We scientists know this from CAT scanning praying monks, nuns, and schizophrenics as they "talk to God." Near the front of these temporal lobes is the amygdala, an almond-shaped organ that imbues events with intense emotion and a sense of meaningfulness.
Because of the way the temporal lobes are structured and hardwired to the amygdala, they are the most electrically sensitive regions in the brain. Dr. Persinger has personal knowledge of this because he created a helmet with coils of wire set just above the ears (picture Woody in Sleeper). By passing a carefully controlled electrical current through these coils, the doctor creates a pulsating magnetic field that mimics the firing patterns of the neurons in the temporal lobes. This creates a mystical spiritual experience, complete with a healthy dose of peace. Dr. Persinger's subjects report an "opiatelike effect with a substantial decrease in anxiety, a heightened sense of well-being, similar to reports of enlightenment."
While Dr. Persinger was doing his best mad-scientist impression, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Ph.D., director of the Brain and Perception Laboratory at the University of California at San Diego, was channeling heaven. Dr. Ramachandran announced in 1998 that he had discovered the "God module." This "module" is located in the brain in an area within the temporal lobes that becomes electrically active when a person thinks about God or spirituality or recalls a "mystical" experience. Wow, that sounds familiar.
We also know that stress, grief, and mostly a lack of oxygen also trigger heavy electrical firing in the same neighborhood as the God module. Since lack of oxygen brings on such neural bursts, some scientists believe this mechanism may account for many near-death experiences of euphoria and tranquillity. Also, sleep apnea in people with twitchy temporal lobes may mean that they hear someone calling their name as they fall asleep, or that they have an "out of body experience," such as flying, in their dreams. We're also going to tell you that the hyperventilation resulting from the exercise that goes along with urban yuppie low-fat living kicks the God module into play. That's why a runner's high is such a religious experience.
Your brain thinks you're dying. But you're just out of breath.
We're worried that you might be out of time, too.
The truth is, all of that exercise is doing more than making you high. It's exacerbating the burnout of your cortisol receptors. Running is a fear response. In the real world, it means something is after you; at least that's what your body and brain think. If you run long enough, all your systems believe you're not going to outrun that predator. The brain chemistry that follows extended running has evolved to make your exit from this world more pleasant. This means that oxygen depletion alone will kick in the part of the brain that takes you to heaven or, in this world, gives you a reason to keep running. The mechanism of brain chemistry that causes you to see God as you run out of oxygen evolved from programmed responsesresponses to environmental cues that no longer exist, responses that once upon a time might have kept you alive or made dying okay.
Now, they're killing you.
What other modern environmental cues are triggering ancient survival switches? The answer to that question is a chilling scenario worthy of a science fiction novel. Or a book like ours.
Working late in bright lights after dark, or watching David Letterman, or checking late-night Email, for even just half an hour, all register as the long days of summer to your inner environmental controls. This means that your brain will force you to seek energy for storage by eating sugar. Sugar (carbohydrates) is the only path to insulin release; insulin's job is to store excess carbohydrates as fat and cholesterol so you have something to live on when summer's over.
The abdominal fat pad common in insulin-resistant, high-cholesterol heart patients and Type II diabetics would, in another time and place, have served to keep internal organs warm and would have been utilized as energy during normal famine (winter). Increased intake of carbohydrates (sugar) is always dumped into increased cholesterol production, too, because the carbs lower the freezing temperature of the cell membrane. in the real world, you'd never have access to that much sugar unless it was summer before winter. You don't live in the real world.
The next time your doctor says your cholesterol is too high and you should cut back on the fat and exercise more, tell him he's mistaken. Tell him you're not sick, you're just going to hibernate and you don't want to freeze. He might laugh.
You, on the other hand, should be crying. You're in big trouble.
All of the systems that have evolved to keep you alive and have brought you to this point are shouting, "Famine's coming!!!"
When you exercise day and night to stave off the weight gain your body and mind crave, you kick in your "stress response." The message you're sending to those systems is
"Oh, my God, a famine's coming and there's a tiger chasing me!!"
Trust us, this is no solution.
In fact, exercise just might be the last nail in our collective coffins. The stress response enacted when you run for your life on that treadmill causes your cortisol levels to rise. If you do this once in a while, say, every ten days, the natural episodic cortisol response will keep your heart and brain healthy. But if you exercise like a maniac more that once a week, the high cortisol levels resulting from all of the chronic exercise actually mimics the stress of mating season, when the long hours of light and the competition (especially for males) kept cortisol at yearly highs. Sexual competition is the most stressful situation possible in nature, short of being killed. Mating season would come to naught without a fat base to nourish a pregnancy through the winter. So it's no coincidence that carbohydrate craving to put on fat, and high cortisol and high sex hormone levels all coincide. There must be a bun in the oven for most mammals by August or September in order for the baby to be born in April or May, in the spring, when food is plentiful.
So you're in the gym, it's November, it's anywhere from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and at least 3 bazillion watts of fluorescent lights are on and being intensified by reflecting mirrors that are shining right into your eyes and all over the skin of your overexposed body. You lift weights, run or jog on a treadmill or track, and, if you're really suicidal, you're on a StairMaster or you're spinning.
Know that, to your body and mind -- which were evolved over millennia to recognize cues in nature -- you are in a fight, a death match, just like the head butting wildebeests on the Nature Channel. You are in a fight for an egg, for immortality, or at least for a chance at the next round. This fight seems reasonable to your body because the long light at night (gym glare) means it's late summer and you must mate or go berserk. (Anybody who's witnessed the mating behaviors going on at the Vertical Club can't possibly question our hypothesis.) That's why cortisol is up during the day -- to supply glucose to muscles to fight or run away and to keep you calm for decision-making processes -- for mating. That's why, when we are constantly bathed in unending light, we all feel so antsy (read: paranoid, aggressive, hysterical, urgent), even those of us not exercising ourselves into oblivion.
In this chronic state, not only are you keeping your blood sugar up, taxing your insulin response system with cortisol's blood-sugar-mobilizing effects, you are actually becoming insulin-resistant as you exercise, too.
This fact means exercise can make you fat.
While you're exercising like a maniac and living low-fat, if you even smell a cookie you gain weight-and you're pouring sex hormones, too, causing cancer and suppressing your immune system in the bargain. Chronic high cortisol also skews your time perception, making you feel continually rushed. It's the altered time perception that fosters much of the late-night stalling before bed, while you stay up under the impression that there must be more to do or that you haven't finished your work. Then you stuff yourself with more sugar because you haven't slept, and your insulin is sent even higher. We know this behavior alone makes you fat and sick.
Really, it's not the lack of excercise or the meat or the butter.
It's not fat at all.
If eating saturated fat caused obesity, we would already be well on our way to reducing obesity nutritionally. Actually, we would all look like supermodels. We're eating less fat and exercising more than ever before, but we don't look anything like supermodels.
In fact, we really look like hell.
We're fatter and sicker than ever before in our nation's history. Not only do we still look incredibly bad, but our plan to eradicate heart disease, cancer, and diabetes is shot to hell, too. The average American has actually gained eight and a half pounds since the "low-fat war" on obesity began.
The assumption we've held dear for thirty years has been that losing weight by cutting fat and exercising would lead to massive improvements in the occurrences of cardiovascular diseases, not to mention diabetes and cancer.
But that hasn't happened.
When it didn't happen, the medical establishment said that the scientists said that we hadn't lowered fat enough. And that if we lowered the fat content in all processed foods, if we further reduced meat consumption, and if we created fake fats like Olean, the brand name for olestra, the tide would finally turn. Now all these goals and miracles have occurred and we exercise day and night, and we are much sicker than ever. The...
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