(NaturalNews) Researchers have long noted that shift workers -- folks like nurses, security personnel and others on the night shift -- are extremely prone to developing metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic condition marked by insulin resistance, weight gain around the middle and high cholesterol levels. But why? Do they tend to simply eat too many snacks as they try to stay alert at night or is it related to disruption of the circadian clock, the body's internal master clock in the brain that's set by light exposure? Turns out, according to new research by scientists at the Salk Institute, there's probably another crucial factor: not only is what you eat important to health but when you eat appears to be crucial to weight control and healthy metabolism.
In experiments with mice, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies discovered there's a daily waxing and waning of thousands of genes in the liver, the organ that's the body's metabolic clearinghouse. And this revving up and slowing down is primarily controlled not just by food intake and not by the body's circadian clock, as was previously assumed.
"If feeding time determines the activity of a large number of genes completely independent of the circadian clock, when you eat and fast each day will have a huge impact on your metabolism," said the study's leader Satchidananda (Satchin) Panda, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Salk Institute's Regulatory Biology Laboratory, in a press statement.
The Salk researchers' findings, which are set for publication in an upcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could explain why shift workers are at an unusually high risk for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high cholesterol levels and obesity. "We believe that it is not shift work per se that wreaks havoc with the body's metabolism but changing shifts and weekends, when workers switch back to a regular day-night cycle," Dr. Panda explained.
The new research involved putting mice on a strict feeding schedule. They could eat during an 8 hour period but they had to fast for the next 16 hours. The result? The scientists found that genes that encode enzymes the body needs to break down sugars soar immediately after a meal, while the activity of genes which encode enzymes needed to break down fat increases the most during fasting. Bottom line: a clearly defined daily feeding schedule causes healthy regulation of the enzymes needed for metabolism and optimizes burning of sugar and fat.
"The liver oscillator in particular helps the organism to adapt to a daily pattern of food availability by temporally tuning the activity of thousands of genes regulating metabolism and physiology," Dr. Panda said in the statement to the press. "This regulation is very important, since the absence of a robust circadian clock predisposes the organism to various metabolic dysfunctions and diseases."
In fact, the more defined fasting and feeding periods are, the more robust the regulation. Dr. Panda has tried the scheduled eating himself. He quit eating between 8 pm and 8 am and reported he feels great eating this way. "I even lost weight, although I eat whatever I want during the day," he noted.
Author's note: NaturalNews is opposed to the use of animals in medical experiments that expose them to harm. We present these findings in protest of the way in which they were acquired.
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.