Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock. Understanding your food clock!

food-clock 2If the excesses of holiday eating have sent your system into butter-slathered, alcohol-soaked overload, you are not alone. People with jet-lag, those who work graveyard and 24 hour shifts and even late-night snackers know just how you feel.

Turns out that all these activities upset the body’s “food clock”  – a collection of interacting genes and molecules which keep the human body on a metabolically even keel. Look behind the face of a mechanical clock and you will see a dizzying array of cogs, flywheels, counterbalances and other moving parts.

Biological clocks are equally complex, composed of multiple interacting genes that turn on or off in an orchestrated way to keep time during the day. In most organisms, biological clockworks are governed by a master clock, referred to as the ‘circadian oscillator,’ which keeps track of time and coordinates our biological processes with the rhythm of a 24-hour cycle of day and night.

Scientists also know that in addition to the master clock, our bodies have other clocks operating in parallel throughout the day. food clock 1One of these is the food clock, which is not tied to one specific spot in the brain but rather multiple sites throughout the body. The food clock is there to help our bodies make the most of our nutritional intake. It controls genes that help in everything from the absorption of nutrients to their dispersal through the bloodstream. It’s also designed to anticipate our eating patterns. Even before a meal, our bodies begin to turn on some of these genes and turn off others, preparing for the burst of sustenance – which is why we feel the pangs of hunger just before our lunch hour.

And while scientists have known that the food clock can be reset over time if a person changes their eating patterns, very little was known about how the food clock works on a genetic level.

Until now!  A new study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is helping to reveal how this clock works on a molecular level. The study showed that normal laboratory mice given food only during their regular sleeping hours will adjust their food clock over time and begin to wake up from their slumber, and run around in anticipation of their new mealtime. But mice lacking a certain gene (PKCγ) are not able to respond to changes in their meal time and instead sleep right through it.

The work has implications for understanding diabetes, obesity and other metabolic syndromes because a desynchronized food clock may serve as part of the pathology underlying these disorders.

food_clock_3It may also help explain why night owls are more likely to be obese than morning larks,” says Louis Ptacek, MD, Distinguished Professor of Neurology at UCSF. “Understanding the molecular mechanism of how eating at the “wrong” time of the day desynchronizes the clocks in our body can facilitate the development of better treatments for disorders associated with night-eating syndrome, shift work and jet lag.”

All of which is potentially good news for this sleep-deprived, word-traveler, up-all-night-on-the-ambulance, always-on-a-diet blogger! SRxA-logo for web

Ho Ho Ho: health hazards for Santa

santa_claus obesityAfter weeks of harried holiday shopping, when the stores finally close on the evening of December 24, it will be a welcome reprieve from the madness. Families and friends gather together and enjoy a relaxing day or two of rest.

But for one man, the real work is just beginning. That’s right – Santa Claus is coming to town!

And while he spends most of the year enjoying a flexible work schedule, monitoring naughty-and-nice behaviors around the world and occasionally checking in on his elves and reindeer, things are about to get frantic for Old Nick.

And to be honest, this year we’re a little concerned about his health.  That belly fat!  The all-nighter he’s about to pull!  All those cookies!

He may know when you are sleeping, but the only way for Santa to get the job done is to stay up all night on December – and that can lead to some serious health concerns.
Studies have suggested that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.  Even if he manages to get Rudolf and his friends safely parked on the rooftops, sleep deprivation could cause his judgment to become fuzzier, leading to the wrong presents traveling down the wrong chimneys.
What’s worse is that sleep loss has a cumulative effect. So while people in the Southern hemisphere might do OK, those of us in Northern climes, and especially those on the West Coast aren’t so lucky. Chronic sleep deprivation could mean he could fly over some houses altogether.

santa + sackBut even if we manage to keep him awake with coffee and Red Bull rather than the usual glass of milk, we’ve got to change Santa’s sack. By carrying something that weighs more than 10% of his body weight, one shoulder is going to end up taking on most of the burden, which could lead to back strains, sprains and spasms.
If you’re thinking of getting Santa a gift this season maybe you could consider a backpack, or better still, a rolling suitcase.

That’s not to say Santa doesn’t need the exercise of his Christmas Eve jaunt. Like 70% of adult men in the US, he is severely overweight. The health risks linked to obesity include Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

With his giant waist comes the risk of belly fat associated problems such as insulin resistance, high triglycerides, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Santa beardThen there’s that beard to worry about. After a month or so of letting thousands upon thousands of kids sit on your lap at the mall, we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s harboring some germs in his whiskers.  So if Santa touches his beard followed by his eyes, ears or mouth, he’s pretty much bound to catch something, especially in the midst of this cold and flu season.

We suggest leaving some hand sanitizer next to the milk and cookies this year to give him a fighting chance.

And finally we’re worried about that thin Red Suit. While we’ll give Santa props for covering his head with a hat, traveling outside all night in December in a red velvet suit and a touch of faux fur seems ill advised. In addition to the hat, he should probably throw on a scarf or knit mask, mittens, thermals and a water-resistant coat to ward off hypothermia.

So whether you’ve been naughty or nice, there’s still time to give some thought to Santa’s Health, as well as your own this Christmas season.

SRxA-logo for web

Bacon or Bagels for Breakfast?

Did your grandmother always tell you to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper?  Turns out she may have been right.

According to a new University of Alabama at Birmingham study, starting the day by eating fat may be the best way to prevent metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, insulin resistance and other cardiovascular disease-risk factors.

The study, just published in the International Journal of Obesity, examined the influence exerted by the type of foods and specific timing of intake on the development of metabolic syndrome characteristics in mice. Those fed a meal higher in fat after waking had normal metabolic profiles.  In contrast, mice that ate a more carbohydrate-rich diet in the morning and consumed a high-fat meal at the end of the day saw increased weight gain, adiposity, glucose intolerance and other markers of the metabolic syndrome.

“The first meal you have appears to program your metabolism for the rest of the day,” said study senior author Martin Young, Ph.D.  “This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilization throughout the rest of the day, whereas, if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you have metabolic plasticity to transfer your energy utilization between carbohydrate and fat.”

What does this mean for human dietary recommendations?

Word on Health cautions that further research is needed to see if the findings are similar between rodents and humans, before we start filling up with bacon and butter in the morning!