Daily Wisdom: A Food Cure for Jetlag
New science suggests an easy trick to get your body clocks up to speed.
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TODAY'S TOPIC: EATING WHEN YOU'RE HUNGRY WON'T NECESSARILY WORK WHEN YOU'RE TRAVELING
Syncing up your meals to the time zone you’re traveling to (meaning: eating breakfast at 9 a.m. London time even if you flew over from New York City that day and your master clock thinks it’s 4 a.m.) immediately when you arrive may help your body re-synchronize its internal clocks faster and offset some of the effects of jet lag, according to a new study in Cell.
“Sleep-wake cycles are the most apparent daily cycles in normal life, but we actually have billions of clocks throughout our body that influence almost every aspect of our biology,” says lead study author Jonathan Johnston, Ph.D., professor of chronobiology and integrative physiology at the University of Surrey in England. One set of such clocks is in your tissues (like that of the liver, pancreas, and skeletal muscle), and it controls regular metabolism of sugar.
When your clocks are out of sync—whether from flying across time zones or staying up all night at home—they cause a range of symptoms we all associate with jet lag: fatigue, poor concentration, and GI distress. Most of your clocks reset quite quickly from short-term disruptions simply from being exposed to light, but some take longer to adjust and aren't directly responsive to light, which is where meal timing can help.
In the study, the researchers found that delaying regular meal timing by five hours didn’t disrupt the “master” clock in our brain that controls all the others, but it did disrupt the natural blood sugar clock. Eating at the "wrong" circadian time (according to your adjusted master clock) causes your blood sugar and fat to peak for longer after a meal, potentially contributing to bigger health problems like metabolic diseases, Johnston says. Syncing meals to meet that five-hour shift helped the peaks and duration mellow back into a normal biological rhythm. In the everyday, it can probably help anyone adjust to their new time zone while traveling. Here’s a real-life example: If you land in London at 10 p.m., go straight to bed even if you’re hungry (maybe eat a snack on the plane when it’s 8 p.m. London time to ward off starvation!) This is when listening to your body cues might not pay off—wait until it’s morning in London and have breakfast.
Once you land, time your meals as well as your light exposure (i.e., eating breakfast in your new location's morning) to help get all your clocks back on track, faster.