Our bodies change signals based on a circadian clock – stronger at certain times of the day and weaker at others. It establishes a rhythm of signals that influences our life.
At least one-third of all genes in our bodies are affected by circadian clocks, and so maintaining a normal circadian rhythm is important to keep ourselves in good health. But many people fail to realize the impact that disrupting circadian rhythms has on our well-being.
When our circadian rhythms are disrupted, our bodies have molecular sensors that tries to adjust the timing of our internal clock and get us back on track. A good example is recovery after jet lag. After an initial exhaustion, your sleep patterns gradually become regular again – because its learning from cues in your surroundings.
What happens if we don’t return to normal, if the entrainment doesn’t have time to adapt due to constant disruptions, or if the clock and the rhythm are out of sync for different reasons? In general, this is considered a bad thing as it increases the risk for many chronic diseases.
Circadian rhythms are often disrupted in older individuals, and this disruption can affect many aspects of cellular function (metabolism, repair, stress resistance, inflammation, and proliferation), although it is not yet clear why this occurs. Many researchers believe that this disruption may increase risk for chronic disease in older individuals.
Is there anything we can do about this age-related disruption?
Scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute have recently found that giving lipoic acid, a compound essential for cellular metabolism, to rodents helped to restore age-related changes in the circadian rhythms in the liver. The liver has a special circadian clock, one that can be entrained by lipoic acid. This effect of lipoic acid on the liver could help explain many of its observed effects on metabolism.
Lipoic acid supplementation has previously been shown to enhance physical activity and memory in old animals and older adults, but it is unclear if these changes are all attributable to changes in the circadian clock. It is also unknown whether lipoic acid can affect circadian rhythms in other organs besides the liver.
Further research is needed to determine if lipoic acid supplementation can effectively modulate circadian rhythms in humans and what the optimal supplemental intakes might be to improve overall health.
For more information on the effects of lipoic acid on circadian rhythms, also see this study from the Linus Pauling Institute. And for more information on lipoic acid, see the Micronutrient Information Center.