Knowing the right time of day to eat can help improve the health of people working on a shift or those suffering from jet lag.
In a study featured in the journal Cell, researchers from the Medical Research Council and The University of Manchester have identified how insulin signals the proper timing of meals in line with the body’s circadian rhythm.
By understanding how the hormone works, scientists may be able to develop new ways to mitigate the effects of body clock disruptions on people’s health. Some of these include eating at the right time or taking medicines designed to trigger insulin production.
“We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and wellbeing — things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift-work, sleep deprivation, and jet lag, disrupt our body clock,” said Dr. David Bechtold, senior lecturer at Manchester and one of the authors of the study.
“It is now becoming clear that circadian disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”
The Body’s Cellular Clocks
The circadian rhythm, commonly known as the body clock, refers to the cellular processes of the body that occur throughout a 24-hour cycle. It helps the body know when to sleep, what levels of hormones to set, and how it should respond to different medications.
The body is able to synchronize the circadian rhythm with its surroundings by exposing itself to daylight and eating at the right time. This is important to help keep the body healthy in the long run.
However, people who work on shifting schedules or those who travel across different time zones often experience a disruption of their circadian rhythm. They are also prone to eating at unusual times, which can severely affect their body clocks and damage their health.
Not much is known about how the body clock responds to meal timing. If health professionals were to unlock this secret, they would be able to provide their patients with steps on how to alleviate the effects of circadian rhythm disruptions.
Insulin’s Role In Setting The Circadian Rhythm
To understand how the body clock works, Bechtold and his colleagues conducted experiments on culture cells and then replicated them on mice.
They found that insulin helps adjust the different circadian rhythms in individual cells and tissues through the production of a certain type of protein known as PERIOD. Results showed that PERIOD plays a key role in setting in the circadian clocks of every cell in the body.
The researchers provided the mice with insulin when they were supposed to be resting to simulate a “wrong” biological time. This affected the mice’s normal circadian rhythms, messing up the ability of the animals’ bodies to differentiate between day and night.
The study shows how eating at the wrong times could disrupt people’s body clocks. To maintain normal body functions, Bechtold and his team believe it is important to follow the correct meal timing and expose the body to enough light. These can help fight off the negative health effects of being on shift work.