Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo
In today’s article, we’re going to be talking about the really cool subject of circadian rhythm and how it influences just about everything in our daily lives from being able to sleep and wake at a similar time each day, all the way to how we search for and digest food.
Your circadian rhythm rules far more than you could ever really consider, and these researchers believe that the patterns of eating you display, play a major role in how the body functions.
Keep in mind, some of the terms that will be introduced here may be a bit confusing, but I’ll do my best to clarify them as best I can. As you'll soon find out though, the actual suggestions from this information will be fairly easy to employ.
A Brief Summary Of Circadian Rhythm
Our circadian rhythm is a process that incorporates many different stimuli, ranging from our environment, like sunlight or lack thereof, as well as the food availability we have. However, that’s a very broad description.
Technically, the environment provides what are known as zeitgebers. Zeitgebers are essentially cues in the environment that then stimulate some process in the body. Light from the sun, for example, is the most apparent of all zeitgebers. The sun in most of us, acts as a cue to wake. In current times, it’s effect is not as apparent, but spend a few days camping without a phone and you’ll soon understand the power of the sun in influencing your sleep/wake cycle.
As the sun rises, it initiates hormonal output in the body, which leads to us waking from slumber. After a day or so of repeatedly waking at a similar time, due to the sun rising, this creates a coordinated symphony of hormonal responses, which leads to you sleeping and waking at a fairly normal time.
It’s sort of like how when you have a normal schedule of waking, you might occasionally wake at the same time, yet do so without an alarm. In this case, your alarm would be some form of zeitgeber, which if utilized repeatedly, would create a typical schedule that the body responds to.
Light / Dark is a zeitgeber, which influences the response of the Suprchiasmatic nucleus (the main coordinator of circadian rhythm). In the periphery however, you also have Food Entrainable Oscillators, which are cells that respond according to your schedule of eating. When food is present, this send signals, which then initiate hormonal responses, which then influence hunger and satiety. It's a beautiful symphony of responding to stimuli, which at one point, probably meant the difference between successfully foraging for food, or dying.
As you can see in the image above, food availability or when you typically eat also acts as a zeitgeber, which then influences important hormones such as ghrelin, leptin and even hormones like cortisol and insulin. And as we’ll get into, this can actually be a powerful tool for successfully dieting, without really making much of an effort.
Your circadian rhythm extends further than simply how you sleep and wake. Cues in the environment such as light, you alarm and even food availability influence hormonal responses in the body. When you have a fixed schedule of waking and sleeping and even eating, you can potentially optimize this whole process, which may help positively influence your life.
A Brief Explanation, Continued
I wanted to make sure I added this section so that you have a bit better understanding of how this actually works.
Your circadian rhythm or this synchronized response to the environment begins up in the brain, in a region known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is located in the hypothalamus. This for example, is labeled SCN in the image above.
From here, you also have what are known as entrainable oscillators. These are cells in other tissue outside of the brain, such as the stomach, adrenal glands, liver, etc. (see previous image for more).
For the most part, you can consider the SCN as the mob boss and the oscillator cells in the periphery to be its minions. The SCN coordinates everything to get these oscillators on track with the “master” rhythm but the responses from the minions can influence how the boss (SCN) responds.
Overall, the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, located in the brain, controls circadian rhythm, but cells in the periphery also play an integral role by sending feedback of food availability. Essentially, the pattern that you eat food "trains" these cells to respond accordingly, which then influences how the entire system functions.
How This Relates To Meal Timing
As mentioned, within the periphery you hold these oscillator cells, which respond to stimuli and coordinate these stimuli with the entire circadian rhythm system.
For example, cells within the stomach contain what are known as Food Entrainable Oscillators or FEOs for short. These are cells that adjust their function, based on when food is regularly available.
In this case, these are extremely important since these cells contain ghrelin, the hunger hormone. When released, this hormone leads to hunger and of course searching for food.
The crazy thing is that when these cells are activated according to a normal schedule of food availability, these cells release ghrelin in anticipation of the normal feeding schedule.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
As you can see, once you’re in a normal schedule of eating, you can expect that just before a normal scheduled eating period, ghrelin secretion increases, stimulating hunger, which leads to you searching for and consuming food.
Thus, it stands to reason that you should be able to “train” and manage hunger, simply by eating at fairly regular intervals, each day.
Cells that release the hunger hormone, ghrelin, seem to act according to a typical schedule of eating, being secreted prior to when you normally eat. This is a survival mechanism to ensure that you search for food. Theoretically, you should be able to train these cells to secrete ghrelin according to scheduled intervals, which may be very powerful for controlling hunger and thus managing food intake.
When considering this scenario, we also can’t forget about leptin secretion, which is essentially our counterpart to ghrelin.
Leptin acts a satiety hormone, to essentially indicate when you’ve had enough food. This hormone, secreted by adipose tissue (fat) is essentially meant to act as a mechanism to ensure that we stop eating when we’re full and also so that we dial back food intake when we’ve reached a high enough body fat level.
In obese individuals, we actually see leptin resistance. Since body fat is so high, you’d expect there to be a high level of leptin, telling the brain to stop food intake. At a certain point though, it seems leptin simply doesn’t work as well as intended, creating this perpetual loop of consuming food when it isn’t required.
Anyways, this routine of ghrelin secretion before meals and leptin secretion after can create a perfect environment of managing hunger and then ceasing food intake when it’s appropriate.
What This Means For You
Essentially, this all means that if you want to easily manage your food intake, regardless of your eating habits, it’s best to attempt to create a fairly normal schedule of eating.
In light of not diverging too much, this whole concept is one of the most important factors in the success that many find with intermittent fasting.
For the most part, you’re just shifting this circadian rhythm to coincide with your fasting schedule. It’s also in my opinion, one of the reasons why paradoxically, most don’t experience hunger while fasting.
Since expressions of ghrelin-containing cells are regularly inactive during the fasting period, there’s no secretion, which means you just simply don’t get hungry. But I digress.
Overall, it seems quite clear that if you want an optimal eating pattern and even appropriate hormonal response to the eating pattern, having a fairly regular schedule of eating and not eating would be advised.
To understand the power of this process, I suggest attempting to have a fairly normal eating schedule, regardless of the format you’re using. If you want to have 4 meals a day, that’s fine and if you want to use some form of fasting, that’s also fine.
Just keep in mind that regardless of the format of your eating, to leverage the potential of this information, you should have a fairly regular schedule of eating.
Your schedule of eating may play a far more significant role than you think. It seems that your schedule of eating influences how the body functions in terms of response to food, including hunger prior to eating and of course, satiety after.
Being able to control hunger is the million dollar questions in terms of weight loss. Fortunately, the simple act of eating according to a schedule might just be the answer you need to successfully manage food intake.
Copyright: restyler / 123RF Stock Photo
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