The concept of moon-as-manipulator is an old one. Aristotle believed that death occurred with the ebbing tide. The Talmud warns against the hazards of sleeping in the moonlight. And as late as 1950, the women of Naples, Italy, believed they could fill out their bosoms by standing naked in the moonlight while chanting, "Santa luna, santa stella, fammi crescere questa mammella" ("Holy moon, holy star, make this breast grow for me").
And almost everyone has heard mutterings about people acting crazy when there's a full moon.
Not to hospital workers, law enforcement officials and reporters who swear that the full moon brings out the dark side of human nature. Paul Katzeff, Boston journalist and author of Full Moons: Facts and Fantasy About the Lunar Influence (Citadel Press, $12.95), writes:
"As predictably as the full moon climbs above the Earth every 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds, human violence, despair, disease, lust and madness also rise."
Unfortunately, there's little on-going research about the Earth's relationship with its cosmic cousin: Much of what's known is an offshoot of other areas of research, such as plant biology, meteorology, psychiatry and biological rhythms. Some scientists are reluctant to acknowledge the lunar effect at all because of its astrological connotations.
Consider, however, these recent (and not-so-recent) theories and findings:
* Human reproduction and sexual response.
The menstrual cycle is approximately the same length as the lunar month, and accordingly, human gestation is about nine lunar months. One seller of lunar calendars claims her women clients are so convinced their cycles are ruled by the moon's four phases, they can predict the onset of ovulation by the new moon and menstruation by the full moon.
In 1967, physicist Edmond M. Dewan reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that women with irregular cycles could regulate their periods at the 29-day mark through exposure to fluorescent light during the night: the equivalent of simulated moonlight.
Some research suggests that men also may be subject to similar cycles that come and go with the lunar phases.
Dr. Estelle Ramey of Georgetown University has documented that men and women experience similar variations in strength and body temperature over a 24-hour period. She points out that during the 1960s, one Japanese bus company was so concerned about its male drivers' high accident rate that work schedules were changed to avoid the men's "off" days. The result: Accidents dropped by one-third.
Research also has confirmed a well-known fact in the obstetrics community: More babies are born on or near the full moon than at other times of the month.
A 1950s study conducted by New York physicians Walter and Abraham Menaker, in which they reviewed 120,000 births at 57 New York hospitals over a 13-month period, showed that 7 percent more babies were born during the three days around the full moon than during the three days around the new moon. They followed up with two other studies, reviewing a quarter of a million births and had similar findings.
A team of researchers from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., concluded four years ago that women are more sexually active during the full moon. They studied the sexual habits of 35 women affiliated with the university and found that 30 percent of the subjects' sexual interest peaked at ovulation: the three days around the full moon.
And, notes Katzeff, "Researchers agree that men, like women, have a greater sexual appetite once a month," coinciding with the full phase of the moon.
* Human aggression.
"It's almost impossible to prove that anything is directly physiologic," says Dr. Charles Mirabile, a psychiatrist with the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn. Nonetheless, when he studied the daily nursing records of 320,000 mental patients over a two-year period he found that pathological behavior rose with the full moon.
His conclusion: "It seems very likely there's an association between disturbances in human behavior and the lunar cycle. The specific mechanisms are unknown, however."
Mirabile, of course, isn't the first to propose that the full moon may unleash the psyche's werewolves.
Dr. Arnold Lieber, a Miami psychiatrist and author of The Lunar Effect (Anchor Press, $7.95) plotted the murder rate in Dade County, Fla., against the lunar calendar and found a "significant" increase in murders around the full moon. He says he warned the Miami Police Department to expect an onslaught of violent crime in early January of 1974--the predicted time of "syzygy," when the sun, Earth and moon form a straight line and the moon's gravitational pull reaches a high point.
"All hell broke out," reports Lieber in his book. "The murder toll for the first three weeks of the new year was three times higher than for all of January, '73."
Researchers Paul and Susan Jones of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, in 1978 plotted the suicides in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, over a three-year period against the lunar phases and found the suicide rate to be 43 percent higher during a new moon compared to its other phases.
* Disease, bleeding and drug addiction.
Dr. Ralph Morris, a pharmacology professor at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association that 64 percent of the 88 angina pectoris patients he studied experienced attacks in the seven days between the full and last quarter moons. He also suggested that other disorders such as bleeding ulcer attacks epileptic seizures, diabetic comas and strokes are more likely to occur on a night when the moon is full. During the full moon, he says, certain drugs, especially when used in combination, may negatively affect the body and, in some cases, cause overdosage. He uses comedian John Belushi's death as an example: Belushi died of a heroin-cocaine overdose at the beginning of the full-moon week.
Although clinical findings and anecdotes abound, there is no clear-cut explanation for why--and to what extent--the moon affects human behavior and metabolism.
Some researchers, including Lieber, hypothesize that because the human body, like the Earth itself, is 80 percent water, it is therefore susceptible to similar "biological" tides.
About the scientific community's general reluctance to respond to such research, Mirabile says, "I think it's an unpopular subject. If you want to maintain any credibility, you've got to be particularly careful." He adds that some research lacks methodical scientific evaluation.
Meanwhile, you can judge the lunar effect yourself: There's a full moon tomorrow night.