(: the best of :) THURSDAY: Sunshine — Not As Bad As We Thought?

18 July 2013

In an episode of the animated television series, King of the Hill, one of the characters says, “Truth is like sunlight.  People used to think it was good for you.”  Probably, your great-grandmother would have said that you should always tell the truth and that you should stay healthy by getting outdoors in the sunlight.

For the last 50 years, however, most of us have been splashing on sunscreen, wearing special sunglasses and opaque outerwear in an effort to avoid the sun’s rays.  In other words, we have been avoiding unfiltered sunlight like the plague.  The plague we were avoiding was skin cancer.  However, recent research seems to indicate that there is a cost to our sunless lifestyle.  Perhaps, “cost” is the wrong word.  A better word is “tradeoff.”

In the UK, and throughout the world, greater numbers of both children and adults are suffering serious Vitamin D deficiencies.  Human beings and animals naturally make Vitamin D when solar UV (ultraviolet) rays shine on our exposed skin.  When we started hiding from the sun, dietary supplements were supposed to provide the daily nutritional requirement once supplied almost exclusively by the sun’s rays.  However, for many, oral supplements do not seem to be providing even the minimum Vitamin D needed to maintain health.

Throughout the organic world, sunlight is closely related to the production of Vitamin D.  Exposing organic substances to direct sunlight is the primary method used to produce Vitamin D for human supplements.  Milk, when exposed to sunlight, develops an extremely effective form of the vitamin called D3.

Normal levels of Vitamin D do more than prevent a malformation of the bones called rickets.  Vitamin D deficiency is linked to hypertension, depression, obesity, dementia, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and, the biggest of them all, heart disease.

University of Edinburgh scientists discovered that our skin, when exposed to sunlight, releases nitric oxide into our blood, which helps lower blood pressure and protect the heart from disease, cardiac arrest, strokes, and attacks.  Statistically, our reduced exposure to sunlight may have increased heart disease more than it decreased skin disease.  Indeed, rates of skin cancer have continued to increase even as our exposure to potentially carcinogenic UV rays has decreased.

Certainly, there are disadvantages to avoiding sunlight.  After all, human beings as a species have lived and thrived for thousands of years with direct exposure to substantial levels of UV rays.  So, maybe sunlight is good for us.  Or . . . maybe it isn’t.

As we hear the latest discoveries describing the benefits of sunlight, it is important to remember that UV rays are also used to sterilize medical instruments.  There are even special UV lamps that are placed in heating and cooling ducts to kill mold, bacteria, and viruses in the air.  These must be installed deep within the ductwork to avoid exposing people to the direct light of these lamps.  But why does this kind of lamp light pose a danger to people?

What we call sunlight contains a particular range of the UV radiation that seriously damages the DNA of bacteria and viruses.  The damage can be so severe that these small organisms cannot successfully reproduce.  So they die.  That is how UV radiation kills germs.  That same range of UV radiation can do the same thing to human skin cells.  The light damages the cell’s DNA causing cell death or genetic mutation, which can lead to the development of skin cancer.  The potentially carcinogenic effects of UV radiation are both direct and well understood.  It would be unwise to ignore this danger.

So, what is the answer?  Do we bask in the sun or avoid the sun?  Without giving medical advice, as I am not qualified to do so, I’ll venture a guess.  Perhaps neither seeking nor avoiding the sun is the answer.  Rather, what is needed is moderation.  Based on your skin type, and with consideration of your individual risk factors, moderate exposure to sunlight is probably healthy and less risky than is generally thought.  So, exposure to a moderate amount of unfiltered sunshine is a good thing.  However, if you regularly work or play outdoors, the prolonged exposure is probably less healthy and more risky.  So, break out the sunscreen, UV sunglasses, and protective outerwear.  With prolonged UV exposure, these precautions just make good sense.

Also, keep in mind that excessive sunlight has unfortunate cosmetic effects causing premature aging of the skin.  The word “tan,” to describe the effects of sunlight on human skin, also describes the process used to produce leather goods.  Leather shoes look good.  Leather faces do not.

On a lighter and stranger note, a woman in Seattle, Navenna Shine, is planning to live on sunshine.  She hopes to survive on light without any food other than water and tea.  Her “Living on Light Experiment” is based on an Indian regimen practiced by a group called inediates, who live without food.  Correction: Inediates “say” they live without food.  It is widely reported that modern practitioners of this ancient discipline have almost all been caught cheating.  Reportedly, one was even caught in a fast food restaurant.  Of course, we should be sympathetic.  If, as most suspect, living without food is fatal, sneaking an occasional Happy Meal isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

Selected Sources:

Sunlight Could Reduce Death Rate From All Causes

Scared of the Sun – the Global Pandemic of Vitamin D Deficiency

Information on Vitamin D

5 Amazing Properties of Sunlight You’ve Never Heard About

Radiation: A Sterilization Method

Disinfection: An Overview – Ultraviolet Radiation Ultraviolet Radiation

Can People Live on Only Sunlight and Water?

“Truth is like sunlight.  People used to think it was good for you.”

King of the Hill, Season 2: Episode 14 “Remember Mono”

[n9] Am I deficient in Vitamin D? | Vitamin D Council

http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/am-i-deficient-in-vitamin-d/

[n10] Hypovitaminosis D – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypovitaminosis_D

[n11] Time in the Sun: How Much Is Needed for Vitamin D? – US News and World Report

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/heart/articles/2008/06/23/time-in-the-sun-how-much-is-needed-for-vitamin-d

[n12] How do I get the vitamin D my body needs? | Vitamin D Council

http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/

[n13] How Much Sun Exposure Do I Need for Vitamin D?

http://nutrition.about.com/od/askyournutritionist/f/sunlight.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY: The Bee Rescue – Some Old Solutions to Some New Problems

13 March 2014

In an effort to maintain the population of bees and other pollinators, the United States Department of Agriculture has budgeted $3 million.  Most of the money will go to ranchers, farmers and beekeepers in a conservation effort to preserve and expand pollinator habitat.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TO THE BEES?

Bee populations have been declining for over 7 years now. First, termed a “disappearance,” then, a “die-off.” the continuing depopulation is, now, formally referred to as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” The continuing decline has been both rapid and widespread affecting perhaps the entire world.

Bees get a lot of scientific attention because they are vital to American agriculture, which is vital to the American economy. Without bees, production of some of our most profitable crops would be impossible. Every few weeks, a news article announces the discovery of “the cause” of the threatened bee “extinction.”  In fact, there probably isn’t a single cause. The current die-off seems to be the result of several factors working together.

The puzzle goes like this. A bee (1) has a parasite like varroa mites; (2) is exhausted by transport over long distances; and (3) is exposed to a particular pesticide. Alone, none of these factors would kill a bee. Even all of these put together wouldn’t kill a bee. However, all of these put together might weaken the bee’s immune system. Then, with a compromised immune system, the bee contracts, and dies from, a completely unrelated disease. That disease is the final cause the bee’s death. However, the underlying cause is an immune system compromised, not by one factor, but by a particular combination of several factors. For now, that combination remains a mystery.

A SHORT HISTORY OF AMERICAN AGRICULTURE

Modern agriculture has come to be dominated by a particular style called monoculture.  The modern farm is a study in intensive land use with about every square foot of available soil used for the continuous cultivation of crops – or more precisely a signal crop.  This modern style has little in common with the traditional agriculture of even a generation ago.

In the past, the typical farm included a fair number of fallow (unplanted) tracts of land in which wild brush and unmown grass were allowed to grow.  These tracts served several purposes.  They provided “breaks,” uncultivated buffer areas between cultivated fields of crops.  First, breaks slowed or prevented the spread of disease from field to field.  And, second, breaks prevented the seeds of one kind of crop from creeping into fields planted with another.  The third purpose of keeping some land fallow (unused) was to prevent soil depletion.  The practice of letting some fields “rest” for an a season was called crop rotation, which helped prevent a loss of, or restore,  fertility to tracts of land.

Traditional agriculture had always avoided modern monoculture’s practice of planting only one kind of crop.  The traditional reason for planting several different kinds of crops was, again, a sort of insurance against the spread of disease.  While one kind of crop might fall victim to disease, another would be less susceptible and survive to produce a much-needed yield at harvest.

What happened to traditional agriculture?  Advances in chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have dramatically reduced the need for crop rotation and fallow tracks of land as buffers.  But this created another problem.  The modern farm needs bees just as much as the traditional farm it replaced.  And bees need habitat.

DO BEES NEED HABITAT?

When we think of bees, we tend to think of the hive-dwelling honeybee.  The honeybee seemed to fit in perfectly with modern monoculture.  Like everything else needed by the modern industrial farm, when you need bees, you just order them “brought in.”  Beekeepers truck bees, sometimes hundreds of miles, to various locations during pollination season.  Then, the bees are trucked out when pollination is over.  At least, that was the plan before CCD and honeybee depopulation became a reality.

But, with or without depopulation, what’s with “habitat?”  The only thing honeybees need is a hive, a beekeeper, and the beekeeper’s truck.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Honeybees aren’t the only pollinators.  Worse, honeybees can’t pollinate some cash crops including certain varieties of tomatoes, cranberries, almonds, apples, zucchinis, avocados, and plums.  For these crops you need bumblebees.

So, why not truck-in some bumblebee hives?  And there’s the problem. Bumblebees don’t live in hives.  The plump bumblebee is the nearest thing to a loner within its social species.  Bumblebees don’t build permanent hives.  They build nests that are deserted for a new location on a yearly basis.  The bumblebees don’t forage (search for and find food) in swarms, but wander alone from flower to flower in open grasslands.

On the traditional farm, these wild bees made their nests in fallow tracks of grass lands or break areas between cultivated fields.  Because the bumblebee’s service as a pollinator is only needed seasonally, these bees survived during the rest of the year by foraging in the same wild grasslands in which they built their nests.

THE HABITAT VANISHES

Monoculture changed all that.  Fallow tracts, breaks, and buffers vanished with every yard of available soil planted with a crop.  Even the small islands of wild grass along the farms paths and roadways were pressed into service.  And the bumblebees left.

What did we lose?  A lot.  The bumble’s unique style of pollination is required, and accounts, for about 3 billion dollars in produce each year.

Fresh off the farm, the bumblebee made its way to the city or, at least, to more populated areas to find the welcome mat missing.  Modern urban and highway landscaping favors a neatly manicured look that requires the elimination of the wild grasslands required by the bumblebee’s lifestyle.  In parks and even around highway overpasses, that great enemy of bumblebee habitat, the lawn mower, doesn’t destroy the grass, but prevents the appearance the blooms and blossoms on which the bumblebees depend for food.  And worse, the lawn mower is the arch-enemy of bumblebee nests.

When the habitat vanished, so did the bumblebee.  Beginning in the late 1990’s, these bees all but disappeared from a vast area of their range extending from the Pacific Coast of California north into British Columbia.  Only recently have there been sightings of even a single bumblebee in several states that once supported an enormous population.

THE MOUNTAIN BEE?

It is said that those who felt uncomfortable in “civilization” used to become trappers and wander into the mountains — earning the name “mountain men.”  Well, maybe bumblebees did the same.  As these bees almost completely disappeared from their lowland range, their numbers were, and are, unaffected in the North American Rockies where they continue to live and thrive.  Mountains are not favored for agriculture and the rough beauty of mountainous areas is only enhanced by wild growing grasslands.  The mountain habitat is well within the bumblebees comfort zone.

THE USDA & A CHANGE IN ARGI’S “CULTURE”?

With all the developments in the efficiency of modern agriculture, it is a little surprising to read of a USDA spokesman discussing the use of cover crops, rangeland, pasture management and other practices that dropped out of modern agriculture decades ago.  But the purpose behind the reintroduction of crop rotation, breaks, and buffers makes sense if the purpose is to preserve native pollinators, most prominently the often forgotten bumblebee.

Without effective pollinators, there will be no harvest in spite of the most intensive and efficient use of the available land.  The USDA spokesman explained that these “new” practices “are expected to provide quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.”