Disrupting circadian rhythm can cause early cancers

Timing is everything, even when it comes to cancer. If you work the late shift, research shows that your chances of cancer may increase. Disrupting your natural daily cycle — your circadian rhythm — by eating at odd times, staying up late and using bright lights at night distorts your hormone production, making tumors more likely. But you can enhance your health if you go with the flow: Synchronize your body’s schedule with health-friendly natural cycles.

The right time, the right place

Perfect timing carries deep meaning for all of humanity. Our captivation by temporal reality penetrates deeper than the unifying framework of schedules, calendars, rituals and histories — it goes straight to our DNA. We live in a universe of cycles, nature’s clockwork, shaping and directing us since the literal “dawn of time.”

All life on Earth is governed by a multitude of oscillating rhythms — a perpetual ebb and flow of energy and movement. The rhythms of day and night, the seasons and celestial motions, the rhythms of nature and our societies — all of these cyclical movements infiltrate every layer of our being. We have evolved in synchronicity with our rhythmic environment, anticipating and adapting to our surroundings to optimize our internal and external resources. Our bodies follow innate biological clocks governing cellular, metabolic and developmental processes which fluctuate minute to minute, hour to hour and day to day. These never-ending rhythms nest within themselves, following 24-hour cycles, two-day cycles, weekly cycles, monthly lunar cycles, seasonal cycles, annual cycles and many others.

The harmony of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognizes these circadian rhythms and uses them to boost health. TCM prescribes specific times to apply appropriate medical treatments to achieve maximum therapeutic effects. Much of TCM focuses on promoting health on all levels by synchronizing a patient with the rhythms of time, nature and the seasons. From a psycho-spiritual perspective, becoming familiar and in tune with these cycles serves as preparation for a harmonious transition of our most important cycle: the cycle of birth, life and death.

Chronotherapy: Fine-tuning your health journey

Western medicine has long theorized about our internal biological clocks, known today as circadian oscillators or circadian clocks. The physiological, metabolic and behavioral processes they rule over are known as circadian rhythms. Modern analysis of our circadian rhythms has given birth to a new therapeutic modality known as chronotherapy, which corresponds with much of TCM’s daily internal energy cycles.

Modern chronotherapy emphasizes that particular times of day are best for taking certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, and receiving specific medical treatments such as radiation therapy. Still in its early stages, chronotherapy is gaining recognition in conventional oncology.  That’s because new understandings of environmental influences on gene expression are revealing some of the mysteries of cellular cycles and cancer growth.

In general, circadian rhythms derive from the 24-hour solar cycle and can be found in plants, animals, fungi and bacteria. Body temperature, blood pressure, muscular strength, levels of circulating hormones, neurotransmitters and numerous other metabolic compounds and physiological processes follow the tides of circadian rhythm.

Diseases have their own rhythms, too. For example, some breast cancers have been found to grow faster during the day than at night. Hormone sensitive breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone-sensitive cancers are also believed to be influenced by nighttime lighting that interrupts the proper circadian cycle.

Circadian rhythms and your health

A large body of accumulating evidence demonstrates that disruption of circadian rhythms is linked to the development of cancers, and, in particular, breast cancer. The proper synchronization of biological rhythms is crucial for repairing DNA damage and suppressing tumors, among a multitude of other functions, many of which are still not completely understood. However, scientists have discovered specific genes that control our circadian clocks. Furthermore, several molecular components of the clock machinery have been found to interact closely with regulators of the cell cycle. So when the circadian clock function is disrupted, it can lead to abnormal cellular metabolism and the proliferation of cancerous cells. Alarmingly, scientists have classified the disruption of the circadian clock as a “group 2A carcinogen,” meaning that it is almost certainly carcinogenic. Lead compounds and diesel exhaust fumes are also group 2A carcinogens.

Studies now link shift work — working during the night hours — to breast and other hormone-related cancers. This type of unnatural schedule, along with habitual jet lag and bad habits like drinking alcohol to excess, significantly interrupts circadian rhythms. Most of the effect stems from exposure to bright light during normal sleeping hours. Of all external cues affecting our circadian rhythms, light acts as the single most powerful influence.

The problem is that bright light at night causes the body to cut back its production of melatonin, a hormone that may be the most important endogenous (produced by the body) component in the regulation of our circadian clocks and circadian rhythmic processes.  Its production is supposed to peak during the dark hours of the night when we sleep in total darkness.

Melatonin helps reset the circadian clock

As a supplement, melatonin plays an important role in cancer treatment and prevention, especially with breast and prostate cancer. In addition to significantly modulating immunity, melatonin has been shown to reduce hormone receptor cells on hormone-positive tumors and exhibit cytotoxic (tumor-killing) activity. It also promotes antioxidant defense of DNA from oxidative stress, protects against side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and assists healing after surgery. Melatonin is considered a master hormone, influencing and regulating other hormones along with a multitude of biological processes. Plus, it exhibits neurotransmitter activity, making it a very powerful molecule. People with diminished levels of melatonin run a much higher risk for developing cancer, and, in particular, hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate cancers.

If you take melatonin supplements, use the guidance and supervision of your healthcare provider. Testing melatonin levels prior to supplementation provides an accurate base line for appropriate treatment. Cancer patients can take up to 20 mg before bedtime, but for most people the dose is 0.5-3 mg nightly.

Rebalance your rhythms

Along with melatonin supplements, there are a number of other ways to reset your circadian clocks. Following extremely consistent sleeping, eating and exercise habits at the appropriate times of day can greatly synchronize your innate rhythms, benefitting your health far beyond many other methods. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, TCM recommends very specific practices and therapies developed over millennia, which help to harmonize people with the ebb and flow of the rhythms of nature, the seasons, and the movements of celestial bodies.

In ancient times, these natural cycles would serve to effectively set and regulate our internal rhythm-keepers. Ideally, it should be easy to synchronize ourselves with the natural world. It was in the past. But now that we are engulfed in a world that, in many ways, functions counterintuitively to our innate biology, we are confronted continually with what it really means to be out of sync. If you want to survive and thrive today, you need to take persistent measures to harmonize your internal and external rhythms.

Dr. Isaac Eliaz

By Dr. Isaac Eliaz

Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a renowned integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Clinic in California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions. Dr. Eliaz is an expert in using highly strategic, synergistic protocols to address numerous areas of health including metastatic cancer, immunity, digestion, detoxification, diabetes, cardiovascular health and more. His approach integrates modern science with traditional healing wisdom for optimal health and wellness. To download any of Dr. Eliaz's comprehensive wellness guides, click here.