Are you and early bird or a night owl? Were there battles in your family when different members had different wake/sleep cycles? According to a new study, what you eat can directly affect how your body determines your circadian rhythms! As I am a raging night owl, I obviously had to check it out.
The article on Science Daily talks about a study involving mice and their circadian rhythms. Apparently, the bacteria in our guts – called gut flora – affect how our bodies process light/dark signals to determine our circadian rhythms. The mice with healthy, “normal” gut flora had regular physical wake/sleep cycles; certain microbes did well during certain parts of the day, meaning that some bacteria were more active during the wake cycles, and then their activity diminished while others took center stage during sleep cycles.
Researchers think that the key is the compounds the microbes produce (by-products of their physical processes that they leave behind in the gut). These make their way to the liver, which is where circadian rhythm genes are “expressed.”
So basically, your gut flora is busy during the day, working hard during shifts and then handing the reins over to others. The compounds they make while “on shift” go to your liver to tell your circadian genes whether to work as early birds or night owls.
What’s kind of freaky is that, because the liver plays a huge part in fat digestion, mice with healthy flora who ate a high fat diet gained weight AND had their rhythms interrupted. So somehow the fat in their diets was interfering with the microbial by-products and the liver working together.
Weird, huh? But I have to say, I’ve experienced changes in my energy levels at weird times when I eat a lot of fatty foods, so this kind of makes sense to me.
The researchers also tested mice with unhealthy flora. These mice had disturbed sleep/wake cycles right off the bat – but the clincher is that they didn’t gain weight.
These results definitely indicate that there is a direct link among whether your intestinal bacteria are healthy, how your liver processes your circadian-clock genes, and how much fat you eat. They all work together to determine when and how well you sleep.
You can help keep your gut flora healthy by being careful about which medications you take, and eating foods that will help your gut microbes, like yogurt, or taking a probiotic or prebiotic (the first provides new, healthy bacteria for the body; the second provides the food that the bacteria that are already there need to keep going).
It’s all pretty fascinating – click over and read the whole thing!