Mind and Body

Bones secrete a special hormone when you're stressed

Osteocalcin helps us to respond to feelings of acute stress -- and helps us deal with them.

Digital Vision. / Getty Images

An anxious public speaker and a sky diver with vertigo have more in common than stress. But to really know what they share, you’d have to look beneath the surface — at their bones. In September 2019, scientists revealed that our bones release a handful of hormones — including one intimately tied to handling stress called osteocalcin.

The team suspected that bone-derived hormones could contribute to acute stress response because bones are generally good at helping us respond to danger — you need them to run from something chasing you after all. Osteocalcin also contributes to energy metabolism, memory, and the ability to exercise — the other stuff that helps out in these fraught situations.

This is #21 on Inverse’s list of the 25 Most WTF science stories of 2019.

To test this idea, the researchers took blood samples from restrained mice and nervous public speakers and evaluated their levels of osteocalcin.

The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Is stress stored in the bones?

Unsplash / Mathew Schwartz

After the mice were restrained for 45 minutes, the level of osteocalcin in their blood rose by 50 percent. Exposingthe mice to 15 minutes of scarier stimuli, like fox urine and electric shocks, raised their levels of osteocalcin by 150 percent.

Being stressed also corresponded to a significant rise in osteocalcin in humans. And though osteocalcin levels increased, the levels of the other bone hormones stayed the same, indicating that it’s stress that made all the difference.

Further analysis of mice showed that the release of osteocalcin also subdued activity in their brain’s parasympathetic nervous system. Importantly, that’s the area of the brain that tells the body it’s okay to relax under normal circumstances. But when it’s subdued, adrenaline is released — which is a good thing when you want to get a way from danger.

“Bone was invented in part to escape danger,” senior author Gerard Karsenty told Inverse. What that danger is depends on what stresses you out.

As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down the 25 science stories from this year that made us say “WTF.” Some are incredible, some are icky, and some are just plain strange. This has been #21. Read the original article here.

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