Earlier this week, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three American scientists for their discoveries of physiological mechanisms that control circadian rhythms. In 1984, they isolated a fruit fly gene that regulates the physiological response to light and dark. The gene codes for a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and is degraded during the day, facilitating a variety of biological changes over the course of each 24-hour cycle.
In later studies, the scientists built on their initial breakthrough to identify other cellular components of the biological clock machinery, and their work led to further discoveries of how biological clocks work in the cells of many different organisms — including humans. Now, scientists have a much more thorough understanding of how humans, animals, and plants have synchronized their circadian rhythms with the rotation of the earth, as well as how fluctuations in circadian rhythms can impact health and behavior.
In recent years, the field of circadian biology — sometimes called “chronobiology” — has expanded significantly. Today, researchers are studying how circadian rhythms can affect the development, escalation, and manifestation of health issues such as Alzheimer’s, depression, ADHD, heart disease, dengue fever, and Lyme disease. One particular topic of interest has been the link between circadian rhythms and obesity. Read on to learn more about how a diet that supports healthy circadian rhythms may also help you maintain a healthy weight.
The Link Between Circadian Rhythms and Weight Gain
Recent studies suggest that weight-related conditions like diabetes and obesity are linked to alterations in circadian rhythms. Of course, the biological clock is not the only factor involved in a complex condition like obesity — but the research shows that it is one among several factors that must be addressed when designing a treatment strategy.
There have been multiple rigorous studies indicating that the timing and nutritional composition of meals can regulate circadian rhythms. For instance, in 2009, a group of researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study and concluded that the circadian timing of food intake can contribute to weight gain. They found that when nocturnal mice were fed a high fat diet during a 12 hour light phase, they gained significantly more weight than mice that were fed the same diet during a 12 hour dark phase. This suggests that calorie intake and energy expenditure are not the only factors that affect weight gain or loss. Rather, the synchronization of food intake with circadian rhythms may also play an important role.
Furthermore, a July 2017 study out of UT Southwestern Medical School shows that eating at the wrong time of the day can negatively affect circadian rhythms, leading to even more problems. When mice were put on diets that were inconsistent with a normal light-dark sleep cycle, it ended up throwing off their circadian rhythms, making them more active during the night. According to the scientists, this indicates that the mice had chronic sleep deprivation. Because lack of sleep is also related to weight gain and loss, the research provided even further evidence that dietary choices affecting circadian rhythms may also play a role in long-term health and wellness.
Nutritional Compounds Associated with Circadian Rhythms
Studies have also shown that certain nutritional compounds can affect circadian rhythms. One of the most common chemicals that alters circadian rhythms is caffeine. For instance, in vivo studies have shown that caffeine consumption can delay the human circadian system in vivo and lengthen gene clock expression periods in vitro. For regular travelers, that means that strategic timing of caffeine consumption can help fend off symptoms of jet lag — but it also impairs sleep after jet lag. And when you aren’t traveling, you have to be careful about the timing of each cup of coffee so that it doesn’t disrupt the normal functioning of your circadian clock.
When your clock does get out of whack, nutrients that regulate catecholamines can help restore healthy circadian rhythms. Catecholamines are hormones that are associated with physiological and emotional stress. The main catecholamines are adrenaline, noradrenaline, and epinephrine. For decades, scientists have known that the excretion of certain catecholamines, especially adrenaline, follow pronounced circadian patterns. Therefore, dietary supplements that support healthy, normalized catecholamine secretion levels can help reduce stress, promote relaxation — and keep your circadian clock on track.
Developing a Dietary Plan that Supports Healthy Circadian Rhythms
If you are trying to lose weight, it can be helpful to strategically organize your meals in a way that supports healthy circadian rhythms and minimizes the risk of weight gain. By strategically incorporating certain nutrients into your diet at certain times of day, either through nutritional supplements or real food, you can ensure the maintenance of healthy circadian rhythms. For most people, developing such a strategy is a challenging prospect, so it is best to seek help from a nutritional counselor. A nutritional counselor can help you develop a personalized meal plan that fits in with your daily schedule and supports healthy circadian rhythms.
At Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness, our chiropractors provide nutritional counseling that can help you meet your weight goals. We also offer MaxRelax, an innovative nutritional supplement that supports healthy circadian rhythms by regulating catecholamines. Contact us today to learn more about all of our products and services!