Circadian Homeostasis

November 11, 2019 • 3 min read

Combining Timing with Nutrition to Create Improved States of Physical, Mental, and Emotional Wellness

A clock’s primary mover is the second hand. It may be smaller than the others, but it exists in constant motion and should it ever stop, the rest of the timepiece would be rendered instantly inert and useless. The innate “clock” found in human bodies as part of the circadian rhythm has a second hand as well, and it depends on consistency. If the clock were to “stop,” the rest of the body’s internal and external functions would also eventually halt. This circadian rhythm may be the center of human physiology.

This was confirmed in a 2015 study completed by Gad Asher and Paolo Sassone-Corsi of the Weizmann Institute. In their publication, they surmise that:

“The circadian clock, a highly specialized, hierarchical network of biological pacemakers, directs and maintains proper rhythms in endocrine and metabolic pathways required for organism homeo-stasis. The clock adapts to environmental changes, specifically daily light-dark cycles, as well a rhythmic food intake.

 Nutritional challenges reprogram the clock, while time-specific food intake has been shown to have profound consequences on physiology. Importantly, a critical role in the clock-nutrition interplay appears to be played by the microbiota. The circadian clock appears to operate as a critical interface between nutrition and homeostasis, calling for more attention on the beneficial effects of chrono-nutrition.”

The Circadian Rhythm & Homeostasis

During homeostasis, the body is working in ideal harmony. The right nutrients are being absorbed in the right environment by the correct means. When this happens, the body is metabolically flexible: sensitive to the proper neurotransmitters, stimulating the proper hormones, and ultimately firing the engine of mitochondrial metabolism and cellular regeneration at the highest possible levels.

Regularly achieving homeostasis requires awareness, intention, and discipline. One of the key drivers of that discipline is the assimilation and digestion of nutrients through food and drink. What Asher and Sassone-Corsi are introducing into the equation, however, is timing. According to their report, it is not enough to simply ingest the right nutrients after obtaining them in the correct fashion. The circadian rhythm of the human body – the constant and ceaseless progression of unseen but highly important metabolic and hormonal processes – must be embraced alongside effort and nutrition in order to fully express homeostasis on a consistent basis.

According to the co-authors, a “master clock” housed in the hypothalamus of the brain primarily governs circadian rhythm, and each rhythm is comprised of three key features:

“An input pathway that includes receivers for environmental cues and subsequently transmits them to the central oscillator; a central oscillator that keeps circadian time and generates rhythm; and output pathways through which the rhythms are conveyed and control various metabolic, physiological, and behavioral processes.”

These features show that environmental factors influence the circadian rhythm. These same external factors pass through the circadian rhythm’s homogenizing oscillators, ultimately to be governed by the master clock in the hypothalamus before passing on to the rest of the body through translation pathways. This unending process has long been recognized and understood, but it has yet to be fully integrated into the ideals of homeostasis and the practicalities that go into regularly achieving this state.

To achieve homeostasis is, in many ways, synonymous with achieving health, and the circadian rhythm’s bearing on this process makes it a vitally important biological function nearly on par with the circulatory and nervous systems when it comes to creating and sustaining true wellness in the body:

“When mice are subjected to high-fat diet ad libitum, the liver clock undergoes a rewiring program that involves a number of molecular mechanisms (Eckel-Mahan et al., 2013). Although many circadian genes lose their cyclic expression due to impaired chromatin recruitment of the CLOCK:BMAL1 activator complex at their promoters, many other genes whose expression is normally non-cyclic become circadian through the cyclic activation of surrogate transcription pathways. These include both PPARg and SREBP, which begin to activate a large number of target genes by cyclic chromatin recruiting.

 These findings reveal the remarkable plasticity of the clock system in response to nutritional challenges and indicate that more genes than previously thought have the potential to become circadian, depending on the nutritional, metabolic, and epigenetic state of the cell.”

Environments and actions placed on human bodies have real, measurable effects on the body’s internal clock. The relevance of this finding on achieving and sustaining hormesis – and by extension achieving and sustaining health itself – is that timing is just as important for eating and drinking as the substances ingested. According to the study: “The finding that meal timing has major effects on metabolic and physiological parameters has led to the conviction that, in choosing food, it is not only important to consider its nutritional value but also its timing.”

The study concludes by saying that while it has not yet been determined what the “optimal time” for ingesting nutrients may be, it can be stated fairly definitively that such a time may exist.

WholisticMatters would like to acknowledge Ryan Lazarus MSc, CNS, DC for his contributions to the content of this article.

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