According to the latest findings, changing your meal times could be enough to reset one of your internal body clocks. This is giving us new insight into the relationship between when we eat and our body’s circadian rhythms.
While older studies have spotted a connection between nutrition, metabolism, and circadian rhythms in the human body, this brand new research pins down that relationship in more detail.
A team from the University of Surrey in the UK has found that while a shift in meal times didn’t affect the ‘master’ body clock – the one controlling when we get sleepy – it did cause changes in the cycle of blood sugar levels.
“A 5-hour delay in meal times causes a 5-hour delay in our internal blood sugar rhythms. We think this is due to changes in clocks in our metabolic tissues, but not the ‘master’ clock in the brain.”- says a member of the team, Jonathan Johnston.
Although we often talk about circadian rhythms as a group linked to a single body clock, the human’s body actually has multiple clocks. These control our natural cycles and functions, which are all affected by factors such as light exposure.
The ‘master’ clock is located in a distinct set of cells in the hypothalamus, part of the brain. But, researchers were up to examine some of our minor body clocks as well.
Ten healthy volunteers were put on a specific meal schedule for six days, and then on a different one with a 5-hour delay for another six days.
After every six-day period, in order to measure any change in their circadian rhythms, the participants were kept awake for 37 hours, with small snacks and dim lighting.
Certain biological clock markers, such as sleepiness, and levels of melatonin and cortisol, didn’t show any significant difference between the two schedules.
But in the blood sugar rhythms and the expression of a gene known as PER2, an important internal clock component, there was a shift. When our body clocks aren’t synchronised, our body feel it.
Jonson says: “We anticipated seeing some delays in rhythms after the late meals, but the size of the change in blood sugar rhythms was surprising,”
“It was also surprising that other metabolic rhythms, including blood insulin and triglyceride, did not change.”
The results of this small study suggest eating patterns only affect some of our circadian rhythms, but the researchers think it could help those who need to resynchronize their body clocks after long-haul flights or late shift work.
Changing your breakfast time won’t necessarily cure jet lag completely, but it might help some of your body clocks get back on track.
Scientists have seen signs of this delicate food and body clock balance in animals already. This is indicating that our bodies really do respond best to some sort of routine.
And if you find yourself stuck in irregular or damaging routines – all is not lost.
As one earlier research suggest, just one weekend of camping under the stars could be enough to reset circadian rhythms that have been bamboozled by our modern-day lifestyles, with late-night Netflix sessions and mid-afternoon naps.
One of the researchers, Kenneth Wright from the University of Colorado, Boulder, explains: “Our findings demonstrate that living in our modern environments contributes to late circadian timing, regardless of season, and that a weekend camping trip can reset our clock rapidly.”
And now this latest research shows food schedules could play a key part too.
As a conclusion, the Surrey team says: “This report demonstrates that meal timing exerts a variable influence over human physiological rhythms, with notable changes occurring in aspects of glucose homeostasis.”