The Puzzling Pineal


(Post on May 31, 2013 by David McMillin)

[NOTE: The following article is included in the Report document for reading 3997-1, an extremely important reading for understanding the role of the pineal and lyden glands in mental health.  The article was originally published on October 27, 1963 in the Houston Post.]

It's about the size of a pea. It sits smack between both halves of the brain. It has baffled scientists for centuries, and now it's back in the research spotlight.

This enigmatic prima donna is the pineal gland – a tiny organ Descartes, the philosopher, mystically called "the seat of the soul."

The shroud of mystery that has covered the pineal gland for so long is being lifted. The pineal is begging to be looked on now as a potent biochemical machine that seems to regulate the sex gland activity of males and females.

"It is, at least, now very certain, says Dr. Johannes A. Kappers of the Netherlands Central Institute for Brain Research, "that the mammalian pineal body, far from being a mere non-functional relic, is a veritable factory working at a high metabolic rate and producing a number of compounds of high functional importance."

LIKE THE APPENDIX, the pineal was thought to be a vestige of man's evolutionary past. But this explanation didn't satisfy too many. The problem persisted: Something sitting in the middle and at the top of such and important organ as the brain just had to be important. The questions was, for what?

Adding to the mystery is the pineal's reputation as a "third eye" in some cold-blooded animals such as lizards and the eel-like lamprey. It has light-receptive structures similar to those of the retina of the eye, and while the pineal in these animals probably doesn't enable them to see, it does seem to help the animals adapt their bodily activity to light and darkness.

The pineal in these animals is impregnated with nerve endings directly connected to the brain. But in animals higher up the evolutionary ladder the pineal seems to have changed from an organ of cerebral nerve fibers to a hormone-secreting gland whose nerves originate from centers high in the neck.

"IT IS MOST intriguing that this gland is part of the brain and yet is not innervated by the brain," says Dr. Kappers.  Instead, running through the gland are some of the so-called autonomic nerves. This nerve system, acting like a switchboard, controls such involuntary biological actions as food digestion, heartbeat, eye blinking and sexual cycles.

Pineal investigators in this country and abroad are giving particular attention to the substance melatonin, produced exclusively in the pineal. In lower animals melatonin seems to influence skin pigmentation. But in mammals it seems to have a far different role.

According to Dr. Kappers, it apparently influences the part of the brain whose hormones regulate the growth and activity of the sex glands. This part of the brain is called the anterior pituitary gland.

MELATONIN given in high doses to young male rats suppresses the development of their semen reservoirs and retards body growth. Remove the melatonin-producing pineal and their sex glands swell.

These finding are corroborated by clinical findings which show that male humans whose pineals were completely destroyed by cancer developed mature gonads early in life.

In female rats, says Dr. Kapper, biochemical activity in the pineal is lowest around ovulation and highest during the period prior to the production of eggs. This is the so-called diestrous period, which corresponds to the menstrual period in humans. Highest pineal activity thus coincides with the sterile period in the females.

Researchers at the National Institute of Health have given melatonin extracts to rats and have decreased the length of their fertile period. The same researchers have evidence that light may influence pineal activity in mammals. They showed that the pineals produced lesser amounts of melatonin under prolonged bright light.

THERE ARE stories out of Sweden which if true would extend the "third eye" effect to human beings. These reports say that the menstrual cycle of women becomes disrupted during the constant light of summer.

The thinking among many pineal researchers, says Dr. Kappers, is that the pineal and the anterior pituitary co-operate in some way to regulate the sexual cycle of females and sexual development in both sexes.

The great German biochemist Otto Warburg prophetically called the pineal the chastity organ because of the depressive action on sexual growth. Other scientists are saying that its effects are more than just sexual, that the pineal also controls fluid balance in the body. The complete facts remain to be learned.