The ‘Fountain of Youth’ Hormone and How to Make Sure You Have Plenty.

The ‘Fountain of Youth’ Hormone and How to Make Sure You Have Plenty.

Hands up who knew that we have a hormone nicknamed by some the ‘fountain of youth’ inside our bodies, that under certain conditions, is released freely into the blood. No, me neither until very recently.

This hormone called osteocalcin is critically involved in maintaining bone density and strength but has also shown to be crucial for keeping our muscles strong and fit, increasing exercise capacity, keeping the brain alert and cognitive functions high, helping to regulate blood sugar, fat and general metabolism. It is an important hormone in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, is intricately involved in our response to stresses, helps to regulate male fertility and reproductive health and is important in slowing down the age related decline of both our physical and mental capacity.

Osteocalcin, as the ‘osteo’ part of its name suggests, is produced by osteoblasts, a type of cell present in the bones. Maintaining strong healthy bones is a dynamic interplay mainly between 2 types of bone cells – osteoblasts (bone builders) which lay down new bone material and osteoclasts, which break down older bone material to make way for the new.

 

Osteocalcin production rises significantly in response to stress.

In humans (and all mammals) the stress response or ‘fight or flight’ as it is known causes adrenaline to be released from the adrenal glands. This produces physiological effects in the body that include a raised heart rate, increased breathing rate, increased blood flow to muscles and a rapid release of glucose to be used as fuel. It is now known that this adrenaline release is not possible without the presence of the hormone osteocalcin. Almost immediately after we perceive a threat or stressful situation, the brain instructs the bones to flood the bloodstream with osteocalcin which then initiates adrenaline release. Researchers have demonstrated that if a person or mammal with no adrenal glands (and therefore no adrenaline) is exposed to stressor danger, a measurable stress response form the body still occurs. However, if a person or mammal has no skeleton, no bones, (don’t ask!) the standard stress response (increased heart rate etc) is absent. If osteocalcin is then injected into the boneless creature, this will induce a marked stress response. Conversely, when mice where genetically modified to produce no osteocalcin, they had no physiological response to stress at all.

So how is osteocalcin the ‘fountain of youth’ hormone?

The bones of our skeleton are not just useful as a means of escaping danger, the osteocalcin released from them has an effect on the brain, the pancreas, metabolism (how the body uses its fuel), muscles, the kidneys, male fertility and more.

Osteocalcin is also released when we exercise where it mobilises fat stores, raises blood sugar and enhances its uptake into muscle cells and helps the muscle fibers metabolise both glucose and fatty acids more effectively. Its presence means we can exercise more efficiently for longer meaning our bones have a direct impact on muscle performance, both strength and endurance. However, osteocalcin production and resting blood levels begin to decline with age, around the age of 30 in women and around 50 in men. Interestingly, researchers found that when older mice were given osteocalcin their exercise performance matched that of much younger mice.

Exercise endurance and muscle strength are not the only benefits of oseteocalcin. It also has a positive effect on the brain and cognitive abilities such as learning, memory, anxiety, depression and prenatal brain development. Experiments determined that it crosses the blood-brain barrier and has receptors throughout the brain where its influences promote the formation of new nerve cells, increases the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and catecholamine (important factors in overall mood and mental health) and enhance memory and learning. Mice that were engineered to produce no osteocalcin showed signs of anxiety, depression and had less memory and learning skills than normal mice.

Studies carried out on women in their 70’s determined that those with higher osteocalcin levels had better memories, learning abilities and ability to execute their learning than those with much lower levels. Experimental treatment with osteocalcin on those with low levels of the hormone found their overall above abilities increase.

The impact of osteocalcin on the developing baby is crucially important. Undernourished mothers with poor bone health and therefore lower levels of the hormone produce children that are more likely to develop metabolic diseases, psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment.

Osteocalcin is directly involved in strengthening bones and preventing fractures (unless the impact on the bone is too great). Studies suggest it may be vital in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

It also increases testosterone production in men and leads to better sperm health, increasing fertility and general drive. It is known that the growth and integrity of the bones in both young male and females is influenced by steroidal sex hormones but it appears that reproductive health and fertility is also influenced by the bones.

It lowers the risk of diabetes by regulating and controlling blood sugar levels, increasing insulin production and improving pancreatic function. It can also help prevent obesity by increasing energy expenditure.

Green leaves are a rich source of osteocalcin

How to ensure a good supply of osteocalcin

The hormone, once released from the bones, has a relatively short life cycle of between 20 minutes to an hour. We know that bone density generally declines with age, along with memory, new learning capacity, muscle strength and endurance. Research suggests that osteocalcin levels fall too. Here are some things that we can do to help maintain and/or increase levels.

Eat an apple every day. Asian studies have found that a substance in apple peel increases both bone formation and osteocalcin levels.

Eat vitamin K rich foods. Osteocalcin needs vitamin K to be fully functioning in all its roles so eat plenty of leafy greens such as kale, sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut, asparagus, kiwi fruit, okra, green beans and dark green lettuce, in fact any leafy green like watercress, spinach and culinary herbs like parsley and coriander.

Cold pressed olive oil and olives have been shown to directly increase osteocalcin levels, especially when coupled with a Mediterranean style diet rich in wholefoods like fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Go for a brisk 20 minute walk each day. Consistent (daily) exercise increases osteocalcin levels.

The seeds of milk thistle and the horny goat weed plant have both demonstrated the ability to increase osteocalcin levels.

Vitamin D is also linked to activation and availability of osteocalcin so a 15 minute sunbathe (without sunscreen) daily if possible is a good natural source.

Other useful nutrients linked to higher osteocalcin levels include manganese, iron, omega 3 fatty acids and ellagic acid..

Think carefully about taking  biphosphates. Biphosphates are commonly prescribed for osteoporosis or low bone density. They reduce or inhibit the bone modeling process (absorbing old bone and making new) with the intention of reducing bone loss and fracture risk etc. However, by inhibiting the bone modeling process, osteocalcin production is reduced significantly.

Avoid steroid medications where possible, these reduce osteocalcin levels.

Limit where possible your exposure to xeno-oestrogens – these are oestrogens that come from the environment. Oestrogen is known to suppress osteocalcin.

Stop smoking as it lowers osteocalcin levels.

 

The Amazing Healing Power of Spiders Webs

The Amazing Healing Power of Spiders Webs

The wound healing properties of the spider web has been known for millennia. Used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as emergency field dressings for battle wounds they not only stop bleeding quickly but are antibacterial, speed up healing and even prevent scarring.

It is not so much the web in itself that heals, it is the silky thread. Even spiders that don’t weave webs produce silk as it is used for many purposes, including ‘drag lines’ which help the spider get around swiftly and safely and secure webs to surrounding structures.

abandoned web on a yew tree

abandoned web on a yew tree

The thread is made up of various proteins and is coated with a sticky cocktail as it leaves the spiders body, the stickiness designed to catch prey (look at the ‘cobwebs’ in your house and you will see how dust and airborne particles stick to them very efficiently, even clearing them off the duster is a bit of an effort). This sticky cocktail contains substances designed to prevent the web from fungal and bacterial deterioration which explains the antiseptic qualities when applied to wounds. It also contains vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting, hence the ability to staunch bleeding from wounds. The silk is also pretty much waterproof so forms a decent barrier over the wound, protecting it from further infection or damage.

The advise from those in the know is to use clean fresh webs if possible (but older abandoned ones may also suffice), checking that the spider has nipped off somewhere before collecting. It doesn’t have to a be an actual web, it can be any thread of spider silk, even cobwebs. Bundle the webs into a gauze like mass and spread over the wound.  You can hold the web dressing in place with a bandage or cloth or just leave it as is. The web dressing will dry quite hard  but can easily be washed of with warm water when healing is complete.

Some experiences of using webs as a wound dressing can be found here http://irishmedicalherbalist.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/cobwebs.html and here http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/apply-spiderwebs-on-cuts-for-natural-wound-sealing-zmaz00aszgoe.

More recently researchers have been looking into various applications of spider webs in healing and medicine. The silky threads are (weight for weight) stronger than steel yet have much more elasticity. Various applications are being investigated, including for use in the repair of ruptured tendons, ligaments, nerve cells and as sutures. Spider silk also has the remarkable property of being accepted by the body with little or no immune response.

Spider webs have even been used in the past for painting on. Webs and silk were collected, squashed together, spread out and allowed to harden ready for painting on. Unbelievably, I even found an article about making bullet proof clothes out of genetically altered spider silk for combat purposes!

old abandoned webs on yew trunk

old abandoned webs on yew trunk