Most of us have been on a long-haul flight and suffered the disconcerting and exhausting effects of jet lag – but a new pill could now make it a thing of the past.
Researchers at Manchester University have discovered an enzyme – CK1epsilon – that resets our body clock and keeps our body operating on a normal 24 hour rhythm. When the enzyme is suppressed the rhythm resets itself, making it easier to stay awake at night and sleep during the daytime.
Team leader Dr David Bechtold said that modern life poses a raft of potential health challenges and disruptions to the normal patterns of our body clocks, including sleep deprivation, shift work and jet lag. Major disruptions in the natural body clock can increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks by up to 40%.
Dr Bechtold added:
We are not genetically pre-disposed to quickly adapt to shift-work or long-haul flights, and as so our bodies’ clocks are built to resist such rapid changes.
Part of the research – published in Current Biology – included observing how mice reacted when the lights were switched on and off outside of their normal pattern. The result was that mice deprived of CK1epsilon adjusted to the fluctuating light/dark cycle faster than normal, as did mice fed drugs to offset CK1.
Researchers are also developing a drug which impedes the same enzyme and could help the body clock adapt to changes in its normal rhythms. Approximately 6% of our body’s genes are linked to our internal clocks, which switch on and off at certain times of the day and night.
Studies have shown body clocks which are out of synch for extended period are more susceptible to serious, potentially fatal, health complications. When the normal sleep-wake cycle is significantly disrupted the body produces melatonin – commonly referred to as the sleep hormone – which is also believed to contain anti-cancer properties.
Dr Bechtold said that the research could also lead to a wider understanding of our natural body clock and spoke of how a disruption to the body clock can contribute to diseases such as chronic inflammation and diabetes.
Current jet lag treatment
The body produces a natural hormone called melatonin, the level of which goes up and down in a cycle over each day. Melatonin regulates sleep and wakefulness. Boosting the amount of this hormone in the body in the evening reduces jet lag.