Could chronic jet lag increase your risk of cancer? Study on circadian rhythm finds a link between body clock disruption and how tumors form
12/23/2017 // Ralph Flores // Views

If you travel a lot, you may be in trouble -- according to research, people who repeatedly experience jet lag have an increased likelihood of developing cancer.

The results stated by the study could be attributed to our body's "circadian clock," which governs our everyday cycle and is synchronized with solar time. However, the circadian clock does not only stop with making our bodies feel like night and day -- researchers from the Charité-Medical University in Germany also concluded that it also regulates other processes in our body that rely on time like metabolism, DNA repair, and the cell cycle -- which makes the circadian clock a potential cancer suppressor.

"Based on our results, it seems to us that the clock is likely to act as a tumor suppressor and that it is of advantage for cancer cells to circumvent circadian control. One cannot stop wondering whether disrupted circadian timing should be included as a next potential hallmark of cancer," said Dr. Angela Relógio, a co-author of the study.

The circadian clock is also called our internal clock. It syncs with the light and dark cycles of the environment and organizes the body's process for metabolism and behavior, including rest and movement. A good example of how it is disrupted is when our bodies experience a change in environment when we travel. When our system experiences a sudden change in light and dark, it may take a period of adjustment before our circadian clock adjusts to this new area -- this is what's called as jet lag.

This change also affects another part of our body -- the cell. The cell follows a different "time", the cell cycle, which is responsible for cell regeneration.  In the cell cycle, a mother cell undergoes cell division which produces two daughter cells at the end of the process. Several types of cancer happen when the cell cycle is dysfunctional or hyperactive, and it can cause the tumor cells to regenerate uncontrollably.


To test this theory, researchers triggered a protein called RAS -- which is "inappropriately activated" in about a quarter of all human tumors. They then observed the protein's behavior when it reacts to two other proteins that are known to suppress cancer -- INK4a and ARF.

They found out that RAS, which controls cell multiplication, likewise controls the circadian cycle through INK4A and ARF. This suggests the significance of people's internal body clock on cell multiplication and its cancer-preventing possibilities.

The study brings a new factor in cancer treatment: internal time. As the results of the study show a clear indication of the relationship between circadian time and cancer development, this adds more weight to earlier studies that linked metabolic disruptions to an increased risk of developing liver cancer. The study was conducted by researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine, and it surmised jet lag to be a primary factor in fat and bile acid buildup in the body, which can increase the chance of developing cancer.

Fast facts about jet lag

Jet lag is the common term used to describe the condition people feel while traveling to a different light and dark schedule after a flight to a new time zone. (Related: Avoid the nuisance of jet lag with these top natural remedies.)

While there is no way to totally eliminate jet lag after a long travel, here are some ways to manage it, especially for long flights:

  • Drink water instead of alcohol during the flight.
  • Don't be stuck in your seat all the time. Take breaks and stretch your legs.
  • Before you travel, develop a "going to bed" routine to help your brain adjust.
  • Condition yourself early and set your watch to your destination before take-off.
  • After you arrive, try to stay awake at least until the evening of their local time.

To learn more about how your circadian clock can help you fight cancer, go to today.

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