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Circadian rhythms are the light and dark cycles that are as old as the very first life forms on Earth. (1) All life, so it seems, had to be intimately connected to the cycles of the sun to continue to evolve.
One of the most important tenets of Ayurveda is living in sync with the natural rhythms. Daily eating cycles, sleeping cycles, and seasonal harvest cycles are all critical to optimal health according to Ayurveda. This understanding is only beginning to be grasped by modern science.
Our gut microbes play an important role in nearly aspect of our health. They are responsible for mood, behavior, cognitive function, immunity, blood sugar, digestion, detox and much more. (3) Interestingly, the bacteria in the gut are significantly altered when we go out of sync with the circadian rhythms. (2)
In a recent study, the gut bacteria in two groups of mice were measured during normal exposure to light and dark cycles for two days. (2) One group of mice was healthy and the other had a mutation that disabled the circadian rhythms.
As mice are nocturnal, the gut bacteria of the healthy mice during night cycles were busy eating, digesting and growing according to their natural rhythms. During the day cycles, the gut microbes were performing “housekeeping” functions like repair and detox – which is what happens in sleeping humans at night. (Human gut microbes function similarly to mice, but in reverse, as we have diurnal rhythms and are awake during daytime.)
The other group of mice had a mutation that disabled their inner clock, which mimicked jet lag. This condition showed disturbed function of their gut bacteria. These disrupted bacteria did not act in sync with the normal rhythms as did the healthy microbes. Most notable was that normal feeding signals governed by the gut bacteria were masked, and the mice whose internal clock mimicked jet lag ate incessantly during the two day trial.
In the same study, when they fed healthy mice during the day rather than at night (opposite to their natural nocturnal schedule), the bacteria were also significantly altered – similar to the mutated mice. In fact, simply changing the feeding schedule for healthy mice altered their microbiome so that it became very similar to that of mice and humans with blood sugar and weight gain issues.
Within the same study, they also compared and contrasted the microbiome of a small group of humans. One group flew cross-continentally and the other stayed in the same time zone. The group that flew overseas had microbiome changes similar to the mice that were fed during the day rather than the night. The jet-lagged humans had microbiological changes as well that put them at a higher risk for weight gain and blood sugar-related issues.
Innumerable Body Clocks
It is now widely accepted that there are many internal clocks in the human body. There are clocks for every organ in the body, and these organs have been following the circadian rhythms and switching on and off for millions of years of evolution. In this study, again we see another example of the importance of following the cycles of nature in our eating cycles. (9)
If we are chronically eating late at night and we have a 2 million-year-old clock that says we should be eating in the daytime, the science points to a disturbance in the microbes driving healthy mind and body function. By ignoring these internal clocks, the body, its microbes, and even its genes lose the ability to hear and sync up with the circadian rhythms that have been with us since the beginning of life on the planet. (4, 8, 9)
Loss of circadian gene expression as a result of a disruption in the ability for the genes to listen or connect with the rhythms of nature has been linked to a number of progressive and life-threatening health ailments. (4, 8) Getting the organs and genes to begin to listen and synchronize with the health-sustaining circadian rhythms is a critical component of optimal health and longevity.
Learning how to live a lifestyle in sync with the daily, monthly and seasonal cycles is something I have discussed in detail in my books and more comprehensively in my online 28-Day Ayurveda Challenge, where a different Ayurvedic lifestyle technique is delivered to your inbox every day for 28 days.
Certain Ayurvedic herbs have also been shown to help reconnect the body’s internal clocks with the natural circadian rhythms. In one study, the herb Bacopa monnieri was found to support a healthy connection to the circadian rhythms while under significant oxidative stress. (5) Bacopa, along Ashwagandha and Turmeric, are all called brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) which support brain and mood function as well as the healthy regeneration of nerve cells when under stress. (6, 7)
If you are under regular stress, frequently crossing time zones, or living in contrast to the body’s internal clocks and a lifestyle change is not possible at this time, consider some protective adaptogenic herbal support as detailed above to help the body stay connected with the circadian rhythms to support optimal health, longevity, and well-being.
What are ways that you sync up with the rhythms of nature in your daily routine?