Brain’s ‘food-clock’ helps fight jet lag

May 23rd, 2008 - 1:36 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 23 (IANS) Latest research suggests that by rescheduling meals, humans can cope better with changes in time zones and night schedules and avoid feeling groggy or jet lagged. Scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, probing the mysteries of biological rhythms, have discovered the presence of a “food-related clock” which can supersede the “light-based” master clock, serving as the body’s primary timekeeper.

Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a group of cells in the brain’s hypothalamus, serves as the body’s primary biological clock - this helps organise sleep-wake cycles, as well as cycles of activity and feeding.

“When food is readily available,” explained the study’s co-author Clifford Saper of Harvard Medical School, “this system works extremely well. Light signals from the retina help establish the animals’ circadian rhythms to the standard day-night cycle.”

But, if food is not available during the normal wake period, animals need to be able to adapt to food that is available when they are ordinarily asleep.

In order to survive, animals appear to have developed a secondary “food-related” master clock.

“This new timepiece enables animals to switch their sleep and wake schedules in order to maximise their opportunity of finding food,” noted Saper, whose study seeks to determine where this clock was located.

“Modern day humans may be able to use these findings in an adaptive way. If, for example, you are travelling from the US to Japan, you are forced to adjust to an 11-hour time difference,” he noted.

“Because the body’s biological clock can only shift a small amount each day, it takes the average person about a week to adjust to the new time zone. And, by then, it’s often time to turn around and come home.”

But, he adds, by adapting eating schedules, a traveller might be able to engage his second “feeding” clock and adjust more quickly to the new time zone.

“A period of fasting with no food at all for about 16 hours is enough to engage this new clock,” said Saper.

Findings of the study appear in the latest issue of the journal Science.

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