Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

August 14, 2012

How long can you live without sunlight? 57 cult members found living underground

Russian police have discovered 57 cult members living in an underground bunker in the Republic of Tatarstan. Many of the children ensconced in the bunker have never seen the sun, according to authorities. How long can you live without exposure to sunlight?

A normal lifespan, with the right diet. Recent research suggests that sunlight deprivation might increase susceptibility to a wide range of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as infectious diseases like tuberculosis and the common cold.

But it's very unlikely that an adult could die directly and exclusively from prolonged darkness. The most plausible deadly scenario is that a lack of sunlight could prevent the body from producing vitamin D, which, in turn, would inhibit calcium absorption. Very low calcium levels might lead to spasms of the larynx, causing suffocation. A proper diet, however, can easily stave off this unlikely chain of events and other health consequences, even if you live in a bunker. Vitamin D is present in egg yolks, cheese, fatty fish, and fortified milk, juice and cereal.

Children are more vulnerable than adults to vitamin D deficiency, making death from darkness somewhat more plausible.

The most obvious risk is rickets, a disease that results in malformed bones and teeth. In its extreme forms, the grisly disease can lead to other health issues like breathing irregularities and cardiovascular problems. Some pediatric researchers believe that rickets might be a factor in some cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Rickets — which may have affected up to 90 percent of children living in the cities of Europe and North America in the late 1800s — may also have played a role in measles and whooping cough outbreaks. Still, as with adults, proper diet and supplements can prevent these complications.

Living exclusively in the dark may cause some other conditions that supplements can't cure. Sunlight helps trigger the body's daily cycle of serotonin, for example. If that production cycle becomes irregular, you can suffer problems with sleep and mood.

Text Only
Slate
  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014

  • Investing more money in tornado research would be a disaster

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to focus on improving forecasts of "high impact weather events" like tornadoes and hurricanes "for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."

    April 3, 2014

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 2, 2014

  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_zuckerberg.jpg The logic of Facebook's multibillion-dollar shopping spree

    Yet again, Facebook has spent a gaudy sum of money to buy a hot startup. This time, it's virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR, at a purchase price of $2 billion. And don't be surprised if Mark Zuckerberg continues on his buying spree.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140325-AMX-BARISTA251.jpg Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

    Do you remember when Starbucks was cool? It opened in Seattle in the 1970s as a local specialty roaster, a trendy alternative to the prevailing generic swill. But the price of conquest is cachet. What was once novel — the warm décor, the gentle music, the faux-Italian lingo — has become banal. Today's coffee snobs would rather snort Sanka than set foot inside a Starbucks

    March 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • Why our brains just cannot let this mystery go

    Why should the story of Flight 370 grip us so? This mystery seems almost designed to arouse some fundamental parts of our brain.

    March 25, 2014