Three prodigal biologists from America received the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2017. Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young are known for their research in circadian rhythms. Their work is on ‘master genes’ that control how circadian rhythms function. They are big names in physiology today cause of this groundbreaking research.
There are a lot of repercussions we face when we mess with our internal body clocks on a regular basis. The world is oblivious to the extent to which it harms our bodies. The sun has been setting every day since the dawn of civilization, and hence, our bodies get accustomed to a specific timing that helps it function.
The Nobel Prize Committee noted that the research “explains how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it synchronizes with the Earth’s revolutions.”
The findings included that of something called a ‘period’ gene in fruit flies, that works in a feedback loop throughout the day. It encodes and degrades a particular protein that only lasts a night before it degrades.
The suprachiasmatic nucleus or the SCN, located in a dingy corner of the hypothalamus in the brain, does the same job for us mammals!
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the 20,000 nerve cells worth of suprachiasmatic nucleus are the master clock that controls all the biological body-clocks that influence the workings of every organ. The SCN connects to the retina in the eye and the pineal gland in the brain on either side, pumping melatonin, the sleep hormone, controlling and affecting the sleep cycle.
And the likes of the ‘period gene’ that compose these body-clocks in humans, fruit flies, fungi and many other such organisms. It’s a safe bet to assume the significance of these body-clocks and the role their play in our existence, and the consequences of wiring gone wrong.
These genes are the timekeepers for every cell in the human body. They control the functioning of each of your organs from your liver and kidney to lungs and heart-rate, and even half of our genes, findings suggest.
Working in the favor of our needs, these tiny clocks ticking inside us dominate and maintain our body’s equilibrium. They also keep things in motion 24×7.
Professor Russell Foster is the chair of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. He explains how a Jet Lag is such a misery for travelers. He says, “Jet lag is so awful because you’re not shifted, but the whole circadian network is not aligned with each other.”
The master clock anticipates the changes and exertion that is caused due to physical time not matching with the internal. The body takes its times catching up with that change, causing you to feel drained after that much-dreaded jet lag!
Tiredness after a jet lag or a late night at work are not the only instances that overwhelm humans living in a capitalistic society. With unending requirements that the work culture impedes, it is difficult to look after your sleep pattern. If such a pattern becomes repetitive, it is the potential risk of developing many diseases and problems. Scientists claim that heart diseases, dementia, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even some cancers can surface.
If you deny your natural body clock its function, it will have eternal consequences on your health. You must not deviate from your circadian rhythm and what your body needs.
Studies conducted in the west show large evidence of how jet lag also impairs performance across sports such as baseball. More terror spread as the revelations pushed biologists and circadian consultants to rethink routines of the masses. For instance, the US Navy, instead of working according to the former British system of the 18 hour day clock shifts to a 24 hour day clock. As a preventive measure for favorable health conditions of its naval officers, this is acceptable.
Keeping in line with such findings, schools are now aligning their timetables. In trying to suit better the adolescents body-clock, timings are being modified. Their body clocks don’t work in tandem with the 9-5 adult body clock. And so, ascribing to a much later schedule for kids works well for their good health.
Moving on to the number one threat for adults and teenagers around the world: obesity.
It is one pressing issue and illness that is familiar with those who function on an irregular and sleep-pattern. Studies conducted by researchers prove that animals when kept in a 20- hour cycle of varying phases of light and darkness tend to eat on an impulse. They also end up with glucose intolerance and irregular circadian rhythm. But, animals that were able to maintain a regular circadian rhythm despite irregularities in sleep did not gain any extra weight.
We all are akin to the munchies, as the millennials call it, that takes over when one spends time in front of a bright screen. But eating irregularly at odd hours messes with the digestive system.
Disrupting the cycle tends to be the number one cause of ill-health.
Findings suggest that when you eat a filling breakfast instead of a big dinner, your body works in time with your rhythms. Such a practice prevents you from overeating. It also helps you lose more weight and is more conducive to avoiding obesity.
Frank Scheer is the director of the Medical Chronobiology program at Brigham and Women’s hospital. His findings on weight loss suggest that people who eat their main meal in the morning are more successful at losing weight.
People who eat early lose up to 25 percent more weight than those who eat later, the timing of meals becomes important. Sticking to a routine regulated by the block clock helps with the maintenance of health in humans.
There is a rise in blood pressure while waking up and in the early hours of the morning. The same theory becomes applicable in such a case. Proved by patterns that emerge in patients who live with a risk of heart attacks.
As compared to the rest of the day, one is at a 49 percent risk of suffering a stroke, or a heart attack between 6 am and noon. For patients with a cholesterol problem, it’s best to take those medicines at night. The liver produces and releases cholesterol in bodies at a rapid rate at night.
The chaos these findings unfurl on human lives is twofold given the demands of the society. With some hope and vision, it may be possible to meet the needs of our bodies. Saving and investing in your body might come in handy if you’re trying to prevent an expensive end!