Starving May Help Avoid Jet Lag

If you are a frequent traveler who have to go through different time zones most of the time, this research may be useful to you. In an experiment on mice, disrupting meal habits may help fend off jet lag. The experiment suggests that skipping meals on a long flight or on the night shift may help travelers prevent jet lag.

Jet lag is a physiological condition which is brought about by a change in what is called as the body’s circadian rhythm. This is the natural cycle that bodily functions normally follow on a daily basis. A disruption of the circadian rhythm, also called body clock, may result in certain changes in what a person feels, with usually not so welcome symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, disorientation, etc.

Certain factors may help cause this disruption, which includes changes between night and day as well as traveling to a different time zone as what travelers often go through. It may take time for the body to readjust itself to the new cycle, with different people either experiencing jet lag or experiencing little disruption to the body’s natural patterns.

Experiments where mice were starved and fed only during the time when they normally sleep seem to shift their body clocks to the new schedule. The mice became alert and awake an hour or two before they were given a meal based on their new schedule. It was a complex experiment involving studying the body clocks in genetically engineered mice.

In the said experiment, genetically engineered mice lacking the master gene BMAL1 that regulates the body clock were used. The scientists then placed the gene into a shell of a hallowed out virus that acts as the vector through which the scientists may be able to introduce the gene to the brain cells that they were studying.

The scientists first placed the gene in the small region of the hypothalamus in mice that serves as the body’s primary clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The mice were able to adjust to a light-based schedule for waking up and sleeping but not for eating. The mice had to be coaxed to wake up or they might starve to death.

The same gene was then placed in a section of the hypothalamus of mice called the dorsomedial nucleus which regulates the waking and feeding schedules. This allowed the mice to adjust their eating schedule but not daylight.

Dr. Clifford Saper of the Harvard Medical School, who organized the study, said that when food is scarce, the second clock can override the body’s primary clock, resulting in the changes in the natural body patterns in mice as seen when given a different feeding schedule. Since the same clock genes are present and known to be in all mammals, humans may react the same way as the mice did.

Although the effects have not yet been studied or proven to work on humans, skipping meals before a long flight or during the night may be worth a try to avoid jet lag or adjust the body clock to a different schedule the quicker way.