December 12, 2008
For eons, folklore has blamed the Moon for everything from lunacy to bad luck. And, for the last few centuries, scientists have scoffed. Now, according to new research they’re not so sure. The Moon may not be made of cheese, but it seems to influence a lot more down on Earth than we previously thought.
According to new research, the Moon affects not only the tides of the oceans but also people, producing a range of symptoms from flare-ups of gout to bladder problems. It may even lie behind the causes of car crashes and affect people’s hormonal balances.
Having carried out new research and reviewed 50 other studies, scientists suggest that doctors and the police even need to prepare for how their work rate will increase at different points in the lunar cycle. Among the findings examined by the researchers were studies that showed GP consultations go up during a full moon, according to Leeds University. Appointments rise by 3.6 per cent, which works out at around three extra patients for each surgery. The researchers did not speculate on the nature of the moon-related problems or why they happened, but said that “it does not seem to be related to anxiety and depression”.
Gout and asthma attacks peak during new and full moons, according to work carried out at the Slovak Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine in Bratislava, where attacks over a 22-year period were monitored.
Data from 140,000 births in New York City showed small but systematic variations in births over a period of 29.53 days – the length of the lunar cycle – with peak fertility in the last quarter. “The timing of the fertility peak in the third quarter suggests that the period of decreasing illumination immediately after the full moon may precipitate ovulation.”
A study in Florida of murders and aggravated assaults showed clusters of attacks around the full moon. A second study of three police areas found the incidence of crimes committed on full-moon days was much higher than on all other days. And a four-year study into car accidents found that the lowest number happened during the full-moon day, while the highest number was two days before the full moon. Accidents were more frequent during the waxing than the waning phase.
Another study of some 800 patients with urinary retention admitted to hospital over a period of three years found higher retention during the new moon compared with other phases of the cycle. Interestingly, patients didn’t show any other daily, monthly or seasonal rhythms in their retention problems.
Even what we eat and drink is affected by the lunar cycle, according to a study at Georgia State University. Researchers looked at lunar variations in nutrient intakes and the meal patterns of 694 adults. They concluded: “A small but significant lunar rhythm of nutrient intake was observed with an 8 per cent increase in meal size and a 26 per cent decrease in alcohol intake at the time of the full moon relative to the new moon.”
While scientists have been trying to prove for some time that the Moon does exert an effect, what has not been established is why. Scientists have until now examined the theory that the Moon triggers changes through its gravitational pull. But the latest research points to an effect on people’s hormones. “The lunar cycle has an impact on human reproduction, in particular fertility, menstruation and birth rate. Other events associated with human behaviour, such as traffic accidents, crimes, and suicides, appeared to be influenced by the lunar cycle,” said Dr Michael Zimecki of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
“Although the exact mechanism of the Moon’s influence on humans and animals awaits further exploration, knowledge of this kind of biorhythm may be helpful in police surveillance and medical practice,” he said.
The researchers also found links between the lunar cycle and the likelihood of people being admitted to hospital with heart or bladder problems and with diarrhoea. The menstrual cycle, fertility, spontaneous abortions and thyroid disease were also affected. Just how the Moon could have an effect needs further research. Dr Zimecki suggests that it may be the effect of the Moon’s gravity on immune systems, hormones and steroids.
He said: “At this stage of investigation, the exact mechanism of the lunar effect on the immune response is hard to explain. The prime candidates to exert regulatory function on the immune response are melatonin and steroids, whose levels are affected by the Moon cycle.
“It is suggested that melatonin and endogenous steroids [which are naturally occurring in humans] may mediate the described cyclic alterations of physiological processes. Electromagnetic radiation and/or the gravitational pull of the Moon may trigger the release of hormones.”
Whatever the root cause of the Moon’s influence over us, its hold over the imagination will endure as long as the shining sphere of rock remains in the sky.
Only 12 people have walked on the Moon: the first were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969, the last were Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972. But last December, Nasa announced plans for a permanent base on the Moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars.
Construction of the base is scheduled to take around five years, with the first voyages beginning by 2020.
© The Independent, January 21, 2007.