Feb. 2-8, 2001
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jetJet lag problems may be related to meals

Taking a trip to Europe? There may be a way to make jet lag more bearable. A new U.Va. study indicates that the timing of meals may play an important role in how quickly the body adjusts to a new time schedule. Abrupt changes in light/dark cycles and eating schedules have effects on the way people feel, as well as on overall health.

Scientists at the NSF Center for Biological Timing, based at U.Va., have found that chow time can reset the circadian clock in the liver, as a factor separate from -- but related to -- the central body clock in the brain after an abrupt change in light/dark cycles. The liver helps regulate digestion, which may explain why so many trans-oceanic travelers experience upset stomach when they suddenly begin eating on new schedules. The researchers use transgenic rats to study how light/dark cycles and eating schedules affect the clocks in several of the body's organs.

In a study published last year, Michael Menaker, U.Va. Commonwealth Professor of Biology, and his team, discovered that the liver resets its clock at a slower rate than the central clock in the brain during light shifts resembling travel across several time zones. Menaker's new study, published in a recent issue of the journal Science, demonstrates that readjusted eating times can greatly reduce the time necessary to reset the biological clock in the liver and, possibly, other peripheral organs. Both studies have implications for the health of shift workers as well.

Menaker says travelers might be able to help the body adjust to time zone shifts by easing into the destination's eating schedule a few days before making a long east-west trip.


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