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The Circadian Rhythm: Far More Than Most People Know

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The Circadian Rhythm: Far More Than Most People Know

This is Dr. Satchidananda (Satchin) Panda, the scientist behind the discovery of the blue-light sensing cell type in the retina, and the many things it affects. But, he’s discovered more…

First, what you probably know (with a little more science)

Dr. Panda discovered that melanopsin, a photopigment, is “the primary candidate for photoreceptor-mediated entrainment”.

To put that in lay terms, it’s the brain’s go-to for knowing approximately what time of day or night it is, according to how much light there is (or isn’t), and how long it has (or hasn’t) been there.

But… the brain’s “go-to” isn’t the only method. By creating mice without melanopsin, he was able to find that they still keep a circadian rhythm, even in complete darkness:

Melanopsin (Opn4) Requirement for Normal Light-Induced Circadian Phase Shifting

In other words, it was a helpful, but not completely necessary, means of keeping a circadian rhythm.

So… What else is going on?

Dr. Panda and his team did a lot of science that is well beyond the scope of this main feature, but to give you an idea:

  • With jargon: it explored the mechanisms and transcription translation negative feedback loops that regulate chronobiological processes, such as a histone lysine demathlyase 1a (JARID1a) that enhances Clock-Bmal1 transcription, and then used assorted genomic techniques to develop a model for how JARID1a works to moderate the level of Per transcription by regulating the transition between its repression and activation, and discovered that this heavily centered on hepatic gluconeogenesis and glucose homeostasis, facilitated by the protein cryptochrome regulating the fasting signal that occurs when glucagon binds to a G-protein coupled receptor, triggering CREB activation.
  • Without jargon: a special protein tells our body how to respond to eating/fasting at different times of day—and conversely, certain physiological responses triggered by eating/fasting help us know what time of day it is.
  • Simplest: our body keeps on its best cycle if we eat at the same time every day

This is important, because our circadian rhythm matters for a lot more than sleeping/waking! Take hormones, for example:

  • Obvious hormones: testosterone and estrogen peak in the mornings around 9am, progesterone peaks between 10pm and 2am
  • Forgotten hormones: cortisol peaks in the morning around 8:30am, melatonin peaks between 10pm and 2am
  • More hormones: ghrelin (hunger hormone) peaks around 10am, leptin (satiety hormone) peaks 20 minutes after eating a certain amount of satiety-triggering food (protein does this most quickly), insulin is heavily tied to carbohydrate intake, but will still peak and trough according to when the body expects food.

What does this mean for us in practical terms?

For a start, it means that intermittent fasting can help guard against metabolic and related diseases (including inflammation, and thus also cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and more) a lot more if we practice it with our circadian rhythm in mind.

So that “8-hour window” for eating, that many intermittent fasting practitioners adhere to, is going to do much, much better if it’s 10am to 6pm, rather than, say, 4pm to midnight.

Additionally, Dr. Panda and his team found that a 12-hour eating window wasn’t sufficient to help significantly.

Time-Restricted Feeding Is a Preventative and Therapeutic Intervention against Diverse Nutritional Challenges

Some other take-aways:

  • For reasons beyond the scope of this article, it’s good to exercise a) early b) before eating, so getting in some exercise between 8.30am and 10am is ideal
  • It also means it’s beneficial to “front-load” eating, so a large breakfast at 10am, and smaller meals/snacks afterwards, is best.
  • It also means that getting sunlight (even if cloud-covered) around 8.30am helps guard against metabolic disorders a lot, since the light remains the body’s go-to way of knowing the time.
    • We realize that sunlight is not available at 8.30am at all latitudes at all times of year. Artificial is next-best.
  • It also means sexual desire will typically peak in men in the mornings (per testosterone) and women in the evenings (per progesterone), but this is just an interesting bit of trivia, and not so relevant to metabolic health

What to do next…

Want to stabilize your own circadian rhythm in the best way, and also help Dr. Panda with his research?

His team’s (free!) app, “My Circadian Clock”, can help you track and organize all of the body’s measurable-by-you circadian events, and, if you give permission, will contribute to what will be the largest-yet human study into the topics covered today, to refine the conclusions and learn more about what works best.

Check out the iOS app here | Check out the Android app here

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