Did you know that your body has multiple internal clocks? And that getting them all synced up may be as powerful an anti-aging technique as diet or drugs?
That’s the surprising finding new research reported here.
The idea of an internal body clock is not new. As the article points out, researchers have known since the 1990s that the body has “an internal molecular clock that runs on a daily cycle to regulate vital functions such as sleep, appetite and metabolism. This is called our circadian rhythm or clock.”
But now researches are learning we have many such clocks. In fact, “Circadian clocks are believed to be present in almost every cell and tissue in our bodies, with a ‘mater clock,’ called the suprchiasmatic nucleus, in the the brain.”
And if we can keep these various clocks properly synchronised with each other, so they work with optimum efficiency, we can not only boost our health but even slow down aging
It’s a challenge, because as we age these “circadian timekeepers can increasingly fall out of sync with each other… This can mean that vital systems for regulating our body functions and brain don’t work healthily in sync as they did when we were younger.” This de-syncing is linked with problems like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
From the article: “Moreover, the damage isn’t only physical, according to research by biologists at Cleveland State University in the U.S. In a review published last year in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, they set out evidence that our circadian clock regulates crucial functions such as our body’s systems for repairing faulty DNA, and also a vital maintenance process called autophagy, which clears our brain of damaged cells.”
On the other hand, if we can improve circadian synchronization, “this can effectively delay the aging process, because our bodies will run themselves more efficiently.”
Can it be done? Researchers, such as a team at Northwestern University, are learning that different circadian clocks rely on different external cues to set themselves each day.
The brain’s clock, for instance, depends on sunlight. Peripheral organs, such as the liver, calibrate themselves by mealtimes.
The daylight issue can be made more complicated by the fact that as we age, “the lenses in our eyes become less clear and the number of light-receptive cells in our retinas dwindle, so we’re less responsive to light levels.”
Solution: Get more daylight in the morning. Get outside at the start of the day.
Eating at the wrong time is another issue. The proper timing of food intake has been shown to boost circadian clock synchronicity. Eating at the wrong time — such as the midnight snack — may be very damaging. The article quotes one researcher: “Giving your internal clock conflicting signals through night-time eating — eating when your brain is about to rest — can confuse them and cause misalignment between internal clocks.”
Calorie restriction also helps to optimize the activity of our body clocks. Cutting our daily caloric intake by about a third — for women, from 2,000 calories to 1,400 and for men, from 2,500 to 1,750 — could extend lifespan. In research tests with fruit flies, a 30% cut in food intake extended lifespans by up to 40% (which for humans, would translate into living to 120).
What’s encouraging here is that we’re not only learning more about what makes our bodies tick — and, most importantly, what contributes to aging — but we’re also discovering that there are everyday solutions, and not just exotic ones.
(Photo credit: Artystarty at iStock by Getty)