Chrono-nutrition: Matching your food to your internal clock

Whether you’re struggling to adjust from jet lag or Daylight Saving Time or just missing some sleep, balanced nutrition can help you recover.

On Nutrition

If you’re still recovering from losing an hour of sleep when we switched over to Daylight Saving Time, imagine what can happen when you are perpetually operating at odds with your internal clock. When and what you eat can affect this.

Your circadian clock runs on a 24-hour cycle that lets your body perform specific functions at appropriate times, which is important for surviving and thriving. “Clock genes” keep the master biological clock in your brain — your “central clock” — running according to your personal chronotype, while exposure to light synchronizes your clock’s cycle with your environment. Your central clock controls things like your nervous system, core body temperature, blood pressure, secretion of melatonin (the “sleep hormone”), cortisol (the “stress hormone”), growth hormones and your sleep/wake cycle. Jet lag is what happens when your clock and your environment become temporarily desynchronized.

About 20 years ago, scientists discovered that the rest of our bodily functions — including blood sugar and cholesterol, hormones, digestion and immune system responses — are governed by “peripheral clocks.” Your peripheral clocks get signals from your central clock to help them stay synchronized, but other things can easily reset them. This is where nutrition comes in: The main thing that sets our peripheral clocks is when we eat (feed) and when we don’t (fast).

When our central and peripheral clocks become desynchronized, trouble ensues. Many shift workers — and time-zone travelers — experience digestive distress because they are eating at unusual times, desynchronizing the central and peripheral clocks. Over time, this can affect how your body uses calories, leading to weight gain. It can also contribute to type 2…

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