The dietary secret to keeping your body clock in sync

Have you ever traveled across several time zones, pulled an all-nighter for a term paper or worked an overnight shift? I’ve done all three, and they definitely wreaked havoc with my circadian rhythm — or internal body clock. The day after, I could usually make it to lunchtime before my body convinced me it was bedtime and I fell asleep (often while I was still sitting up).

Disruptions to the body’s internal biological clock can do more than impact your sleep. They interfere with your core body temperature, mood and metabolism. A dysregulated body clock can also raise your risk of developing metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes.

In addition, frequently throwing your circadian rhythm out of sync can trigger systemic inflammation. This can eventually lead to chronic pain and make you more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease.

If you travel overseas a lot, or you’re on a shift-work schedule that runs counter to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, you may be on the lookout for anything that might help you counter the disruption. This nutrient may be a possible solution for you…

Prebiotics and rebounding from “jet lag”

Results from a U.S. Navy-funded animal study suggest prebiotics, compounds that help feed beneficial bacteria in the gut, may play a key role in helping the body bounce back faster when its internal clock is scrambled by situations like jet lag, irregular work schedules or insufficient natural daytime light.

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that are naturally abundant in many fibrous foods, including leeks, artichokes and onions. After passing through the small intestine, prebiotics linger in the gut and provide nourishment for the trillions of friendly bacteria there.

“This work suggests that by promoting and stabilizing the good bacteria in the gut and the metabolites they release, we may be able to make our bodies more resilient to circadian disruption,” says senior author Monika Fleshner, a professor of integrative physiology at University of Colorado Boulder.

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Previous studies by the same researchers found that rats consuming food infused with prebiotics had better sleep and more resiliency to some of the physical effects of acute stress. In the most recent study, the research team explored whether prebiotics could affect recovery from body-clock disruptions caused by situations like jet lag, irregular work schedules or insufficient natural daytime light.

How prebiotics work to offset circadian disruption

In the most recent study, rats were fed either regular food or chow enriched with two prebiotics: galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and polydextrose. GOS can be found in cashews, pistachios, legumes like kidney beans and chickpeas, soy and oat milk, butternut squash and beets. Polydextrose is an indigestible sugar synthesized from glucose and sorbitol.

The researchers then shifted the rats’ light-dark cycle every week for eight weeks. Each weekly shift was the equivalent of traveling to a time zone 12 hours ahead.

The rats consuming the prebiotic-enriched food readjusted their sleep-wake cycle and core body temperature more quickly than those eating the normal chow. The prebiotic rats also resisted the gut flora alterations that stress often causes.

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Plus, the prebiotic rats hosted more “good” bacteria in their gut that released substances protecting the rats from the effects of their scrambled internal clock. These include Parabacteroides distasonis and Ruminiclostridium 5, which have been shown in other studies to reduce fragmented sleep.

The researchers are conducting clinical trials to determine if the effects of prebiotics on the body clock are the same in humans.

Should you take prebiotics for jet lag?

From these results, you may think that eating plenty of foods containing the prebiotics GOS and polydextrose may be the solution to your jet lag woes. But until the human clinical trials, the researchers can’t make recommendations on the optimal amount for correcting your body clock.

However, much previous research has identified many benefits of prebiotics, both through diet and supplementation, including improved sleep. But the amounts the rats were fed in the Navy study would be considered an excessive amount for humans.

“If you are happy and healthy and in balance, you do not need to go ingest a bunch of stuff with a prebiotic in it,” Fleshner says. “But if you know you are going to come into a challenge, you could take a look at some of the prebiotics that are available.”

Still, it’s always wise to make sure your diet includes enough prebiotics to nourish your “good” gut bacteria, since they protect against gastrointestinal disorders and support a healthy heart, brain and metabolism.

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Is your body clock off schedule? Prebiotics may help — University of Colorado Boulder

Enzyme therapy can help reduce symptoms in IBS patients sensitive to galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) — Monash University

Dietary Fibber — Slate

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.