A massive evaluation of blood tests from over 3.5 million patients provides new evidence regarding how our bodies are affected by the changing of the seasons. While these hormonal changes are clinically significant, they are also rather small. While other species can experience massive shifts in Hormone Balance due to seasonal patterns, the differences in human beings are much more subtle.
The pituitary gland is the origin-point of the series of Hormone Cascades that keep us living and thriving. Other organs associated with Hormone Production, such as the testes, ovaries, and thyroid gland, also experience seasonality. While one might guess those sex hormones are more active in the summer, it appears that these hormones hit their peak late in the winter or early into spring. Testosterone, Progesterone, and Estradiol all fall into this pattern.
The Circadian Rhythm and the Circannual Clock
The human Circadian Rhythm is reasonably well understood. The day-night cycle has a profound effect on the way that our bodies work. Seasonal cycles remain somewhat of an enigma, however—to the point that scientists are still searching for undeniable evidence that humans have a seasonal clock at all. This study offers the most effective argument that humans do indeed have a seasonal biological clock, also known as the Circannual Clock.
This massive blood test analysis is combined with insight from other studies that have suggested that humans function at their healthiest during the period from late spring to early summer. These studies indicate that humans both grow and perform better during this period of the year. The fact that this time of year is strongly associated with rebirth and renewal may be rooted in biological reality. Studies show that the lead-up to spring is associated with heightened reproductive function, healthier metabolism, lower stress, and optimized growth.
How Does the Human Body Measure the Seasons?
As researchers gather evidence regarding the existence of the Circannual Clock, the next step is to unearth the mechanisms which contribute to these seasonal changes. It's hypothesized that the endocrine system takes in feedback from the periphery hormone glands to modulate pituitary activity. Sunlight is known to have a strong effect on the production of pituitary hormones such as Melatonin, Human Growth Hormone, Vasopressin, and Cortisol.
As humans share evolutionary lineage with all other mammals, it's no surprise that humans are affected by the seasons. In other animals, the changing seasons clearly have an impact on migration, color, growth, activity level, and sexual activity. For example, many animals that live in colder climates suppress leptin production during winter to survive the winter. This drop-in leptin production drops body temperature and limits energy use, but it also impairs reproduction until spring.
Exploring the Effects of the Seasons on the Endocrine System
One thing that makes studying the Human Circannual Clock challenging is that few studies cover all of the desired parameters in a single piece of research. Some studies look at sex hormones, and others examine metabolism and stress. Because researchers are stringing together such disparate data sets, it makes it hard to draw strong conclusions.
This new study, which examines 46 million human years of health data gathered from Israel, overcomes several of the issues related to previous investigations. Unlike most before it, this study collects data from a huge number of people while also analyzing the full array of hormones produced by humans.
This data trove allowed researchers to conclusively show that Hormone Balance is predictably affected by the seasons' changing. However, these changes are not nearly as powerful as those displayed in most other mammals.
It's hard to tell exactly what these changes in Hormone Levels mean for individuals, but researchers have educated guesses in many cases. Thyroid Hormone reaches its highest levels in winter, which is believed to help humans generate body heat. Cortisol levels are shown to hit their peak around February in the Northern Hemisphere.
Studies like this are critically important because they can help doctors accurately diagnose Hormone Imbalance, accurately taking into account the normal range for various hormones at different times of the year. While this research is still in its infancy, learning how our bodies respond to the seasons will no doubt benefit society greatly.
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