How Messing With Our Body Clocks Can Raise Alarms With Health
Posted by : Mary Wutz /
"We humans are time-keeping machines. And it seems we need regular sleeping and eating schedules to keep all of our clocks in sync.
Studies show that if we mess with the body's natural sleep-wake cycle — say, by working an overnight shift, taking a trans-Atlantic flight or staying up all night with a new baby or puppy — we pay the price.
Our blood pressure goes up, hunger hormones get thrown off and blood sugar control goes south.
We can all recover from an occasional all-nighter, an episode of jet lag or short-term disruptions.
But over time, if living against the clock becomes a way of life, this may set the stage for weight gain and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.
"What happens is that you get a total de-synchronization of the clocks within us," explains Fred Turek, a circadian scientist at Northwestern University. "Which may be underlying the chronic diseases we face in our society today."
So consider what happens, for instance, if we eat late or in the middle of the night. The master clock — which is set by the light-dark cycle — is cuing all other clocks in the body that it's night. Time to rest.
"The clock in the brain is sending signals saying: Do not eat, do not eat!" says Turek.
But when we override this signal and eat anyway, the clock in the pancreas, for instance, has to start releasing insulin to deal with the meal. And, research suggests, this late-night munching may start to reset the clock in the organ. The result? Competing time cues.
"The pancreas is listening to signals related to food intake. But that's out of sync with what the brain is telling it to do," says Turek. "So if we're sending signals to those organs at the wrong time of day — such as eating at the wrong time of day — [we're] upsetting the balance."
And there's accumulating evidence that we may be more sensitive to these timing cues than scientists ever imagined."