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Things To Consider: Your Liver Doesn’t Know It’s the Holidays!
Thank you The New York Times for this very insightful article By STEPH YIN.
We find ourselves nearly at the end of yet another Holiday Season Friends and Family! The end to a small era of justified and celebrated indulgence . . . Here are some things to think about when trying to balance out these last days of 2016.
Over the holidays, many of us will drink, stay up past bedtime, eat an extra slice of pie and sleep in. Fun as they are, these activities can tamper with our circadian rhythms, the feedback loops that sync our body’s functions to our external environment.
The liver, which helps regulate your body’s metabolism, gets thrown off by unhealthy patterns of sleep or by changes in diet or alcohol consumption. If you’re experiencing indigestion or your energy levels are low after too many holiday parties, your liver could be out of sync. In recent years, more and more research in the field of chronobiology, the science of biological rhythms, suggests the importance of maintaining a consistent schedule for the sake of your liver, which has a clock of its own.
Circadian rhythms are important for helping the liver anticipate the body’s demands throughout the day, like stockpiling energy after meals and releasing it when we sleep, said Felix Naef, a professor of quantitative biology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.
Recent studies have examined how alcohol affects circadian rhythms. This year, researchers reported that night shift workers given two to four glasses of wine each day for a week had altered circadian rhythms and “leakier” intestinal linings than day workers, which could put them at risk of alcoholic liver disease.
Dr. Garth R. Swanson, a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and an author of the study, says he believes this risk applies to any drinkers who frequently shift their circadian rhythms by more than two hours.
“People don’t have to be working night shifts for months or years,” he said. “You could potentially put yourself at risk just by doing a series of bad behaviors for a relatively short amount of time.”
Other studies in mice have implications for understanding the liver’s cycles.
Last month, Dr. Naef and a team of researchers reported finding more than 500 proteins in mice liver cells that shift in abundance over the course of the day. These proteins ultimately help the liver filter blood and process fats and sugars. When they are thrown off their tight schedules, the liver might lag in important processes like detoxification and digestion.
Our daily liver cycles are molded by an interplay between sleep, food and alcohol. Sleep affects the master clock in our brain. Like most other bodily organs, the liver is partly governed by this central rhythm.
But the liver also has its own internal clock, which can be affected by food and alcohol.
In studies with mice, John Y. L. Chiang, a professor of biochemistry at Northeast Ohio Medical University, has found that even short-term changes in either sleep or diet can affect the liver’s ability to contribute to fat digestion. Chronic disturbances, he said, may lead to fat accumulation in the liver, which can cause “many different problems: fatty liver disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even cancer.”
Alcohol can also knock a mouse’s liver rhythms out of whack, said Shannon M. Bailey, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her team recently found that feeding mice moderate levels of alcohol for a month significantly disrupted the functioning of their liver clocks.
To keep your liver’s clock consistent this holiday season, avoid extreme behaviors, said Lei Yin, an assistant professor of physiology at the University of Michigan.
That means maintaining your central circadian rhythm with a regular sleep schedule. You can stay up a little later, but try to avoid doing so more than two hours past your normal bedtime. A helpful tip is to go on a walk in the mornings. “Light is the most powerful way to reset our internal clock,” Dr. Yin said.
It also means staying cognizant of how food and alcohol affect your liver’s timers. Try to stick to normal mealtimes. And it’s fine to drink a little, but avoid binge drinking, which is defined as more than four or five drinks in two hours.
In the short term, sticking to these guidelines might ease your transition back to reality, once the holidays are over. In the long term, maintaining a regular schedule and drinking less can safeguard your metabolism and prevent disease.
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