Chameleons may know the need of Vitamin D

Why chameleons bask in sun may be indicative

A report published in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Periodontology has highlighted the importance of limited exposure to the sun twice a week could help the body to produce enough vitamin D to help maintain oral health. This is a very unique report as earlier the connection between oral health and vitamin D was not well established.

Dr. Charles Hildebolt, Department of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, said: “Both vitamin D and calcium counteract deficiencies and reduce bone resorption. Numerous studies indicate that vitamin D and calcium deficiencies result in bone loss and increased inflammation. Inflammation is a well recognized symptom of periodontal diseases, which is why it has been suggested that calcium and vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for periodontal diseases.”

However, in the critical time when people are looking to avoid sun because of skin cancer, the recommendation of 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure two times a week won’t go easily with people. This is one area where this finding could receive a bit of resistance.
However, as per the words of Vincent Iacono, DMD and president of the American Academy of Periodontology: “We are not encouraging people to forego their sun protection, nor to spend prolonged periods of time in the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is no such thing as a total UV block. Even the most effective sunscreens currently on the market let through enough UV to allow for adequate vitamin D formation.”

Now, it is clear that there is quite a lot of research that needs to be done to establish more sound relationships between the lack of vitamin D and its risks to oral health. Now we turn our focus to something very interesting. Did chameleons, lizards, crocodiles and other reptiles already know about this connection? Well, I had thought about this issue for the past 8-9 years but due to lack of understanding into dental health and other research facilities, I could not pursue this interesting phenomenon.

I noticed that chameleons, lizards, crocodiles open their mouth towards sun and keep it for longer periods of time. I have seen this scene a number of times. However, I was not sure why they did this. The general perception was that these animals sit in sun to keep their bodies warm. But a new report has suggested that they might be absorbing vitamin D from sun. This is what exactly I thought at that point but could do nothing to prove it. What I did was this: I tried to keep my mouth open before the sun so as to give vitamin D to my teeth and my family members were very surprised due to this behavior of mine. But now that this report has come up, I am very happy about it.

Kristopher Karsten, a biologist at Texas Christian University who led the study, “It’s a longstanding assumption that thermoregulation is the only reason that lizards bask. Our results suggest that in addition to thermoregulation, vitamin D regulation appears to have a significant impact on basking behavior as well. It appears that panther chameleons have the ability to gauge their internal vitamin D levels and alter their basking behavior accordingly. Given the ability for panther chameleons to precisely, accurately and effectively adjust basking behavior as a direct result of vitamin D3, seems likely to occur in panther chameleons.”

The study is published in the May/June issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. I am sure this research will lead to more and deeper understanding of the behavior of chameleons and other reptiles who you can see basking in sun opening their mouth towards it.

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