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Do High-Fat Foods Disrupt Your Body Clock?

December 01, 2007 | 107,030 views
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Mice that ate a high-fat diet gained weight and experienced a disruption in their circadian clocks, which regulate metabolic functions such as when they go to sleep, wake up and become hungry.

The disruption threw off the timing of the animals’ internal signals, including appetite control. As a result, the mice ate extra calories during the time when they would have otherwise been asleep or resting. For humans, this would be the equivalent of raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

The high-fat diet and resulting weight gain also triggered diminished expression of genes that encode the clock in the brain and in peripheral tissues.

The findings suggest that changes in metabolic state that occur with obesity and diabetes affect not only circadian rhythms of behavior but also physiology.

Past studies have found that a misaligned body clock can throw off your metabolism, and increase your risk of obesity and diabetes.

This represents a “vicious loop,” according to researchers, because once weight is gained, your internal clock is disrupted, and a disrupted clock makes the original problem worse.

"Timing and metabolism evolved together and are almost a conjoined system," said one of the study’s authors Joe Bass, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern and head of the division of endocrinology and metabolism at ENH. "If we perturb the delicate balance between the two, we see deleterious effects."

 

 

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Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The problem with virtually all diet studies like the one above is that they tend to ignore a profound foundational element of human physiology. The very foundation of their study presumes that all humans have similar food requirements.

If you have been reading this site for a while you will know that nothing could be further from the truth. Some were designed to eat high-fat, high-protein diets while others thrive on low-fat, low-protein diets. 

Analysis of these premises becomes a bit more cloudy when you switch to animal models, as they tend to have a more homogenous genetic background, especially the animals that are bred for scientific experiments. The researchers are assuming they can generalize their findings to humans, but for this type of research I do not believe the science supports it.

So Just What Can You Do to Improve Your Sleep Cycle?

Your sleep/wake cycle, regulated by your circadian rhythm (or your body’s internal clock), has evolved over many years. If you violate these very powerful biorhythms, you are asking for trouble.

What may surprise you is that your body has many internal clocks -- in your brain, lungs, liver, heart and even your skeletal muscles -- and they all work to keep your body running smoothly by controlling temperature and the release of hormones.

Your heart rate, body temperature and hormone production vary with your personal internal clock. This, in turn, influences such things as:
  • The easiest time to detect disease in your body
  • The times when you’ll be less sensitive to pain
  • The times when you’ll be more productive at work
However, this is a very delicate system, and it is easily thrown off kilter.

Does your diet also impact your internal clock? Definitely.

What you eat sends your body signals about when to wake up and go to sleep. Your meals, which are typically at relatively consistent times throughout the day, also help to reinforce other time-setting activities.

In terms of foods themselves, protein-rich foods help your body to produce chemicals that tell you to wake up. High-carbohydrate foods, meanwhile, produce chemicals that tell you to go to sleep.

This is why jet lag, which occurs when your body's inner clock is out of sync with the time cues it receives from your environment, can be significantly reduced by eating the right foods.

Another questionable aspect of the study is the fact that the mice were kept in darkness for the entire duration.

Changes in light dramatically impact your health and your biological clock. Mice do not typically live in complete darkness, so I question whether this impacted the results.

How to Keep Your Circadian Rhythm in Balance

Aside from being linked to obesity and diabetes, a disrupted circadian rhythm may influence cancer progression through shifts in hormones like melatonin, which your brain makes during sleep. So it’s crucial that you support your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.

The following tips will help to keep your body’s internal clock running smoothly:
  • Sleep in total darkness!! If there is even the tiniest bit of light in your room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland's production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin.
This is the “hidden” secret that most people tend to ignore. This was recently brought to my attention when the highly knowledgeable chiropractor who works in my clinic, Dr. Lloyd Fielder, told me that he never fully appreciated the power of this intervention. He recently installed black out drapes in his bedroom and was shocked at how much better he felt -- it radically improved the quality of his sleep.

So do yourself a favor this holiday season and purchase yourself some black out drapes. You will be shocked at how much better you feel, and you will also radically lower your risk of cancer.
  • Sleep when it’s dark outside and get up when the sun comes up. This is another largely ignored -- yet vitally important -- health principle. You should at least strive to sleep between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This means you should be in bed, with the lights out, by 10 p.m. and be up by 6 a.m. If this is difficult for you, keep in mind that people naturally followed this pattern before the advent of electricity. This has been an important part of Ayurvedic medicine for over 5,000 years.
  • Avoid working the night shift. It’s been linked to significantly lower levels of serotonin, which may cause sleep problems, anger, depression and anxiety. If you currently work the night shift, I would strongly suggest trying to switch your hours, or at the very least not keeping the night shift for longer than a couple of months at a time (and giving your body a chance to readjust in between).

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