12 January - 20 June 2016

Diet and body clock

16 July 14

Food may have an important role to play in affect a body’s internal biological clock, according to research published in Cell Reports. This new study suggests that we may be able to set our biological clocks back or forward depending on what we eat.

An internal biological or ‘circadian’ clock plays an important role in preferred sleep times, times of peak alertness, and the timing of certain physiological processes. The clock enables maximum expression of genes at appropriate times of the day, allowing organisms to adapt to the Earth’s rotation. The circadian clock involves two major pathways. The first, which responds to light, has been well characterised. The second, which responds to food, is less understood.

Through experiments in cells and mice, the researchers at Yamaguchi University, Japan, found that insulin, a pancreatic hormone that is secreted in response to feeding, may be involved in resetting the circadian clock. The researchers set out to test just how strong insulin’s influence was. They did this by injecting mice with a chemical known as S961, which specifically blocks the activity of insulin. When those mice were transitioned from a night-time feeding schedule to a daytime one, their bodies took twice as long to respond to the change than the bodies of mice whose insulin remained uninhibited. In short, insulin seems to help our stomach’s clock rapidly synchronise with mealtimes, which helps our body's entire circadian clock synchronise with our daily sleep/wake cycle.

Based on this newfound information, the researchers hope to discover new treatments for circadian disorders, in which the body’s biological clock has trouble synchronising with the environment, and to develop specialised dietary programs for circadian-disorder patients with diabetes, whose body chemistry responds differently to insulin. [DiscoverMagazine, Eurekalert]

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