It's Friday the 13th, so it's safe to say that the countdown to Halloween has officially begun. Soon our streets, houses, and ill-managed daycare centers will be adorned with ghouls, ghosts, and monsters. But for those of us who don't enjoy having boney hands pop out and give us a fright, a recent study has some bad news, because even the skeleton within is scaring you all the time.
A study released Thursday has revealed that our skeleton plays a key role in the body's stress response to danger. In 1977, scientists discovered that our bones aren't just an elaborate coat rack for our organs, but that they also secrete a protein called osteocalcin. It does the body good in lots of ways, including regulating blood sugar levels, improving physical fitness, and even helping our brain work more good better hooray yes.
But now Gerard Karsenty, a pioneer in osteocalcin research, posits that osteocalcin and not adrenaline is vital in our flight-or-fight response. In tests, he and his associates turned both mice and men into scaredy cats, exposing the former to fox urine and the latter to the human equivalent of thinking you're about to get ripped to pieces by vicious predators: public speaking. They observed that while under stress, our bones' secretion of osteocalcin spikes. And it turns out that spike is more important to our flight-or-fight response than even adrenaline (nature's PCP). Removing the osteocalcin from mice made them barely react to the perceived presence of perilous pee.
But how does osteocalcin cause us not to be weak in the knees? As far the study can tell, the amygdala -- our brain's alarm system -- orders the bones to secrete more of the protein in order to block the "calming" portion of our nervous system, thereby allowing stress to run rampant throughout the body and keep it in full danger-prevention mode. This further supports the current theory that our savvy skeletons didn't just evolve to protect us by being gut armor, but also to help us better deal with escaping harm altogether. So the next time you're able to overcome being weak in the knees, know that you have your knees to thank for it.
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