• Dr Agnes N Ryu

Metabolic Health & Fertility

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Restoration of our body clock, the circadian rhythm

Agnes N Ryu

Agnes N Ryu

Pathways Clinic

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The symptoms your body is experiencing are a reflection of the state of the biological terrain, the internal environment of the living organism. Adopting this viewpoint, diseases could only emerge if the internal ecology was out of balance. We do not ‘catch’ diseases, we build them. The two recently discovered major health factors that perform a myriad of regulatory effects in the human body and set the tone of metabolism are the microbiome in the gut and the circadian rhythm.  Regardless of whatever diagnosis you receive, as a holistic measure to bring the internal terrain back into balance and regain a high degree of vitality throughout the tissues, the microbiome and circadian rhythm should be optimized through deliberate lifestyle choices.

 

Cellular orchestra

Approximately one-third of all the genes in the human body are clock genes and nearly every cell has its own clock and these operate in a timed, rhythmic, sequential manner. The peripheral clocks of various body parts are led by the signal of the master clock located in the hypothalamus in the brain. All cells follow the conductor’s signal and coordinate like the work of an orchestra moving to synchronized beats. Otherwise, discord and cacophony ensue. The body clock not only dictates visible functions such as regular hunger and sleep cycles, it also affects the metabolic processes of every cell in the body. The internal synchronization of workings of organs, tissues and cells is of critical importance as is synchronization with the external environment if we wish to retain robust health and resilience against stressors. It is well known that the sex hormones, both female and male, follow a circadian rhythm. In fact, almost every hormone in the body is released according to this clock and hormones, in turn, strengthen the circadian rhythm.  A vast amount of physiology is controlled by the circadian rhythm as are reproduction and fertility.

 

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Light exposure

The master clock in the hypothalamus in the brain acts like a GPS navigation system responding to your situation, both in terms of location and diurnal and seasonal time. The master clock is located on the top of the optic nerve and receives light as a cue to the time of day and night and seasonal changes. The master clock synchronizes us with the earth’s clock and our bodies undergo changes according to the time of the day and season. Sunrise and sunset set the circadian rhythm and the diurnal cycle determines the cellular functions of day and night. A lack of exposure to sunlight during the day and staying awake late at night under artificial lighting (junk light) dampens our natural circadian rhythm and can cause various cellular dysfunctions and organisational disruptions. Simply staying up late at night, sleeping in late, eating at the wrong time can cause havoc with the coordinating functions of different organs.

 

Resetting the circadian rhythm

I recommend limiting the use of light-emitting electronic devices in the evening and going to bed early in a completely darkened room. The production of the hormone melatonin ceases when it senses light. Bed should be strictly reserved for sex and sleep. Watching the sunrise is a powerful cue resetting the circadian rhythm. Morning sunshine sends strong signals to the brain that day has begun and sets the tone of metabolism for the day. Your body will recognise night time better and be primed for sleep. Avoidance of the sun combined with a sedentary, indoor lifestyle is totally unnatural to our genome. Going outside frequently during the course of the day to gain exposure to natural light is encouraged. Use the lunch break, within a couple of hours of noon, to get sunshine. By sunset, prepare to wind down the mind and body by dimming the light and prioritising sleep. Schedule eating and activities with sleep optimization in mind. The aim is to establish stark contrasts in cellular functions between day and night: deep restorative sleep in darkness generates peak mental and physical energy during waking hours.

 

Sleep is MEDICINE

Sleep accounts for one-third of the lifespan. Sleep is not a dormant, passive state when the brain shuts off. According to new studies, sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life. Good sleep facilitates the body’s self-healing mechanism, resilience, cellular rejuvenation, the consolidation of memory and organization of information.

As we age, the circadian rhythms become less robust. Declining levels of growth hormone, thyroid hormone and sex steroids affect the quality and quantity of sleep and the action of melatonin and cortisol directly affect the sleep-wake cycle. We can readily identify the distinctive sleep patterns of babies, teenagers, those who are going through menopause and the elderly. Peri- and post-menopausal women’s sleep disturbances are partly attributed to progesterone secretion shifting from the ovaries to the adrenal gland, therefore, following the cortisol cycles with some negative repercussions. The stress response should be sufficiently dampened once the essential reaction occurred, but if it becomes pathological (excessive and prolonged) and disrupts the diurnal cycle then this creates a vicious downward cycle of disturbed sleep, heightened stress response and progressively less tolerance to stress in turn. The triad of super network systems of the body, the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system all require maintenance and replenishment through deep, restorative sleep, otherwise accelerated ageing and degeneration are inevitable.  Studies show a link between chronic sleep deprivation and serious health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cancer, and autoimmune disease, weight gain and mood disorders. Poor sleep is not another vexing symptom, it is a period that engenders many diseases and illnesses! If you can get a good amount of quality sleep, you can reverse the cascade that triggers disease processes and recovers cellular function. Investment in quality sleep is one of the smartest choices you can make which rewards with many dividends over the course of your life.

 

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