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According to two of the world’s leading circadian rhythm scientists, Keith Summa and Fred Turek, understanding the role of the circadian clock could revolutionize medicine. The research is so compelling that a new science called “circadian medicine” is emerging. (1)
Basically, all life on earth keeps time with the 24-hour light/dark cycle as dictated by the sun. In the brain, there is a master clock called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that synchronizes all the many other clocks in the body. (3- 6) Like a conductor of an orchestra, the brain commands certain genes to release proteins that turn certain clocks on and off according to the day and night cycles. (1)
A disturbance in the master clock, the gene expression, and the many cellular clocks that are being discovered is linked to a host of chronic health problems. The phrase, “Go with the flow” has never before carried so much weight.
The Many Different Clocks in the Body
The clocks in the body are responsible for up to 50% of the gene expression in the various tissues of the body. Let’s learn more about synchronizing our clocks with the circadian rhythms.
The liver clock is designed to support detoxification at night and the release of glucose for energy during the day. (1,2) If this clock gets disturbed, then toxic fatty substances can be released into the blood at the wrong time when the body cannot process them. At the same time, if sugar is released at the wrong time, energy levels can crash during the day which can alter brain function, energy, and bring about a host of other concerns. (1,2)
In the morning before dawn, the heart clock genes signal the heart to prepare for the rigors of the day. Many folks naturally awaken in the early morning hours – at, say, 6:00 AM – and then roll over and go back to sleep. The heart clock is what got your eyes open. A disturbance in this clock can put excess stress on the heart, and some scientists believe this may be why heart attacks are more common in the morning. (1)
The kidney clock regulates electrolytes in the body in an effort to boost blood pressure in the daytime and relax it at night. From this information, one can deduce that an alteration of blood pressure may be due to a malfunction of the genes in the kidney that regulate the kidney clock, electrolytes and cardiovascular function. (1)
While the liver clock is designed to put sugar into the blood for energy, the pancreas clock is designed to escort the blood into the cells with the proper amount of insulin. If the pancreas clock is disturbed, excess sugar can linger in the blood. This, among many other degenerative processes, can cause glycation. Glycation is when the sugar in the blood clumps to proteins, causing damaging glycation consequences. Glycation End Products (AGEs) are the smoking gun for almost every degenerative health concern. (1)
Fatty Tissue Clock
The new science is suggesting that the body’s fatty tissue is its own endocrine organ involved in the regulation of all the hormones in the body. The fatty tissue clock goes through cycles when it is okay to dump fat into the bloodstream, and when it is not. A disturbance in the circadian fatty tissue clock may leave fat to deposit or congest the body, or be unavailable to make hormones and energy when needed. (1)
How to Harmonize Your Inner Clocks
In nature, there are two 12-hour cycles that are each divided into three smaller cycles. Each 4-hour cycle is linked to certain bodily functions governed by vata (air), which controls the nervous system, pitta (fire), which controls digestion and metabolism, and kapha (earth and water), which controls immunity and structural strength. Understanding how to connect a daily routine to these cycles is powerful medicine in Ayurveda.
First 12 Hours of the Day: 6am-6pm
6am – 10am – Kapha increases. This is the best time for exercise and physical labor before the sun is giving its peak heat. Kapha is heavy and supports greater physical strength.
10am – 2pm – Pitta increases. This is the best time of the day to eat your biggest meal, as the pitta or digestive fire is the strongest in the middle of the day.
2pm – 6pm – Vata increases. This is the best time for mental and creative energy, as the nervous system is more active. Craving sweets at this time indicates exhaustion, blood sugar issues, poor digestion or that you didn’t eat a sufficient lunch.
Second 12 Hours of the Day: 6pm-6am
6pm – 10pm – Kapha increases. This is the best time to begin settling down for sleep. Kapha is heavy, and with cortisol levels dropping at this time, you should be getting sleepy!
10pm – 2am – Pitta increases. This is the best time to be sleeping. The liver (pitta) engages in detox at this time (like a janitor cleaning floors and windows). If you are constantly up and awake during this time, the detox can be disturbed.
2am – 6am – Vata increases. The nervous system begins to stir during this time before the sun rises. This is the best time to sleep deeply and naturally wake up before the sunrise.
From the first sign of life on this planet, these clocks have been of profound importance. It has only been recently realized that we have disconnected ourselves so globally from these rhythms, and it is affecting our health. (7-9) Perhaps the most powerful tool we have to maintain optimal health is to recognize and live in sync with the powerful cycles of nature. Ayurveda is, in fact, the science of life and teaches us how to live in harmony with all aspects of life. Living life in harmony with the circadian clock is step one on the road to good health.
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How do you live in sync with nature’s cycles?