I was wrong. It turned out that yesterday there were a couple of zits in out of the way places that I didn't notice. I was so fully expecting to be zit-free, I just spent 60 seconds turning my face left/right in the mirror and declared myself clear. This is a really interesting failure, because I had actually fallen off my own regimen but apparently couldn't believe that would matter.
People Can't Believe Melatonin Matters -- Even Me!
On the day we lost an hour of sleep due to the DST time change, I went to the 8:45pm showing of "Watchmen". That kept me up past midnight, although I couldn't manage to sleep in the next day and still haven't found my dang sleepmask. And, then it turns out I had just quit making an effort to tend my melatonin cycle. I had stopped the evening 35 minutes aerobics, and had even missed doing the little pumpkin seeds + glucose trick to shove more evening tryptophan (fuel for melatonin) into the brain.
Not only was I getting less sleep, I was getting less quality of sleep, which probably implies less of a nocturnal melatonin surge. In my particular case, I have an extra gauge of sleep quality -- excessive REM sleep. Excessive REM sleep for me means endless dreaming, where each dream is less of an episode or fragment, than a full-length movie. I have actually recounted some of these upon waking, and some of them are like a 30-minute sitcom, complete with beginning, middle, and an ending where the bad guy gets his comeuppance. My excessive REM died down when I started doing all the tricks designed to give me a normal melatonin cycle, but it's come back in the last few days.
But, because I was taking zinc, and a big dose of EGCG, I just implicitly felt like I would stay acne-free. Even though I try to convince other people that melatonin probably matters to acne (my guess is because it stimulates cell genes to make anti-oxidant enzymes that require zinc), apparently I hadn't convinced myself! You can't see, touch, or taste your nightly melatonin cycle. But I think the real problem in believing melatonin matters is that it's a form of not doing. You just can't get away from the subtext of morality associated with acne. I must have acne because I'm bad, or I did something wrong. Since food is the new sex when it comes to morality, that fits right in with the endless witchhunts for foods associated with acne. 99% of the time, the food that will be indicted for causing acne will be something that tastes good. Thus, soda is a Great Evil for acne sufferers, but carrot juice (crammed with sugar!) is just fine.
So, when it comes to morality, sloth (at least in America) is right up there with kicking puppies. Tell someone they need to treat their disease by exercising more, or cutting back on foods they like, or by taking an awful-tasting pill with terrible side-effects, or by going to the doctor and getting cut with a knife -- and they embrace that! Tell someone they need to treat their disease by getting longer and more enjoyable sleep -- and they just won't do it. Even better, since no doctor can easily test your melatonin cycle without sticking you in a sleep lab for 24 hours, you will never ever hear a doctor tell you or anyone you know that they have a melatonin problem. Like all of us humans, doctors tend to solve problems by "looking where the light is better". If they can't measure melatonin, they'll just assume it doesn't matter.
But the Evidence is Clear: Melatonin Matters
If you told your doctor "I've started injecting myself every day with a big dose of this hormone I've discovered", she would be horrified. But of course, that's really equivalent in an inverse way to what most of us do every day -- we suppress the big dose of the natural hormone melatonin that nature intended us to get every day. And we may be paying for it with increased disease.
The Melatonin Hypothesis emerged when studies showed breast cancer correlated with nightshift work for women. There's considerable evidence that melatonin is oncostatic (keeps cancer from growing), so the hypothesis emerged that when you screw with people's normal melatonin cycle on a long-term basis, you open yourself up for a greater risk of cancer. Enough evidence for that has piled up that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared nightshift work a probable carcinogen.
If you want to think about how acne works, you have to explain Cordain's acne-free neo-Paleolithics. There's just no getting around the fact that it's stunning that they could not find a single zit, not in adults, not in hormonal teenagers, not in menstruating women, nada. Of course, the trick is then in saying which of the thousands of things that is different about their lifestyle keeps them acne free (and what if it's more than one thing combined)? Cordain leapt on diet (and was embraced, of course, whole-heartedly by the folks who unconsciously seek a moral message in the disease of acne).
I can see one very good reason to believe Cordain hasn't got it right: he hasn't opened a clinic that is producing a stream of 100% acne-free clients. Instead, he's gone the route of all people who take a half-hearted whack at acne and get slightly-better-than-placebo results: he sells you an ebook, a plan, a newsletter. If your acne doesn't disappear even on his incredibly restrictive diet, well maybe you messed up and ate something that secretly contained one of the forbidden foods. I think if Cordain had studied the acne community, their desperation, and their existing food obsessiveness (that sometimes goes all the way to anorexia), he would have been more circumspect in designing his cure. But I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Cordain will also advise taking some zinc for some patients, and avoiding dairy. But what about that dairy thing? The Masaai have traditionally eaten meat, milk, and cow's blood. Now, milk is filtered cow's blood, so if you think androgens or other hormones from cow's milk is causing acne, you ought to be horrified at drinking the blood straight. So do the Masaai get acne? I'm not sure, but I see that when some Masaai were shown a picture of an American student with acne, some asked what it was. One thing I am sure of, the Masaai traditionally have not had artificial light sources that makes it easy for them to wreck their natural melatonin cycle.
We always pin the blame for teenaged acne on "hormones", but Cordain's neo-Paleolithic teenagers still had zero acne. I don't believe in any single-factor explanation of acne, but it is interesting to note that one of the things that often comes with being a teenager is a later curfew. Of my nephews who have acne, none would tolerate the idea of having to be in bed by 9pm. I doubt getting a healthy nocturnal melatonin surge would make them 100% acne-free, but I wouldn't be surprised if it dramatically improved their symptoms.
Back to Square 1
So now that I've re-convinced myself to pay attention to the melatonin leg of this regimen, I'll go back to 150mg/day of zinc, do all the tricks to evoke a long and healthy melatonin surge at night, and predict that I will be 100% acne free within a matter of days (if not, then that will be really depressing and indicate a flaw in what limited understanding I thought I had carved out). Then, I'll go back to trying to reduce the zinc dosage again.