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General Health & Fitness

  • Casein Protein Benefits

    Casein protein is another protein supplement that, while certainly not unpopular, isn't talked about nearly as often as whey protein. Because of this, many people do not understand the benefits casein protein can have for them.

    Casein protein is a dairy protein, like whey protein. However, casein is well-known for its slow-digesting components, whereas whey protein has become the golden child due to its fast absorbing abilities. So why use casein protein if you already use whey protein?

    It's a Great Tool to Use before Going to Bed

    When you are going to sleep, you are entering a state of fasting for around 8 hours, depending on how long you sleep. On top of that comes the factor of how soon you eat after you wake up, which could extend the fast.

    In order to prime your body for growth, you need to be feeding the body the nutrients it needs to create an anabolic state. Including casein into your diet before going to bed is an excellent way to keep your body supplied with high-quality protein, and it is also slow-digesting, which means it will fuel your muscles for a longer period of time.

    While this means that whey protein is clearly the better choice after resistance training, it also means that casein protein can be very effective at times when you are not going to be eating food again for a while. And if this is after exercise, don't worry: studies show that casein protein is also effective at starting protein synthesis after exercise, just like whey protein1. While whey protein will reach your muscles quicker, casein can be used effectively if eating after exercise does not seem to be an option.

    For added benefit, be sure to include BCAA's after exercise as well, which will help prevent muscle breakdown.

    Greater Fat Loss

    When trying to lose fat, it is important to also have a good balance between protein intake and calcium intake. This helps to preserve muscle mass while in a caloric deficit, not to mention all of the benefits calcium has on the body.

    Casein protein powder has good amounts of both calcium and protein, which makes it easier on you. By supplementing your caloric deficit with casein, you are helping to maintain a good balance between the two, helping to preserve quality muscle mass while burning the fat away.

    Great Combination with Whey Protein

    People are always searching for the fastest way possible to build muscle. After all, everyone wants to be strong and look strong, and we don't want to waste our time doing unnecessary things.

    Well, one study that came out showed that combining whey and casein post-exercise can greatly enhance lean muscle mass gains2. This is due to the two having different benefits that actually blend very well together, since whey being fast acting, while casein protein takes longer.

    Conclusion

    As you can see, casein is actually a very versatile form of protein that can be included multiple ways into your current diet. By using it before bedtime, or post-workout with a whey protein, you are adding another layer of benefits onto your current nutrition regimen, and will help facilitate more muscle growth, and even fat loss.

    1. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (n.d.). Ingestion of Casein and Whey Proteins Result in Muscle Anabolism after Resistance Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
    2. Kerksick, C. M., Rasmussen, C. J., Lancaster, S. L., Magu, B., Smith, P., Melton, C., . . . Kreider, R. B. (n.d.). The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
  • Sedentary life style can be detrimental

    Having a sedentary life style doesn't just make you unfit or gain weight. A recent study by Schmid and Meitzmann and published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute meta-analysed data collected from 4 million individuals including 68,936 cancer cases concluded that there is an increased risks of chronic disease and mortality rate associated with sedentary behaviors such as watching TV.

     

    The study found that each 2-hour per day increase in sitting time outside your normal occupation is associated with an 8% increased risk in colon cancer, a 10% increased risk in endometrial cancer and 6% increased risk in lung cancer. The increased risks in these cancers appear to be independent of physical activity. This means spending a large amount of time sitting down could be detrimental to health even to those who do regular exercise. Sitting at work seems to be a lot healthier than watching TV, given that you don't over do it. A 2-hour per day increment in sitting at work has been found to increase the risk of obesity by 5%, whereas each 2-hour per day increase in TV time is associated with 23% increase in obesity risks.

     

    The mechanism of which sedentary behaviors cause cancer is unclear. However, the authors of the study speculated that unhealthy eating habits, vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sun exposure, weight gain from low energy expenditure and an increase in pro-inflammatory markers in blood due to prolonged sedentary life style maybe the main culprits. Colon cancer and endometrial cancer are obesity related cancers. Therefore, the increased risks of cancer caused by sedentary life style may work through similar pathways, even if you are not obese.

     

    People today spend on average 50 - 60% of their time in sedentary pursuits and we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. On top of that, it's forecasted by the US National Cancer Institute that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will bear the risk of developing some form of cancer by 2050 in the US, doubling the current rates. Doing regular exercise can reduce the risk of mortality and chronic diseases. The world health organization (WHO) recognizes this and recommends adults to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. What the WHO guideline doesn't address is the amount of time spent by people in sedentary pursuits, which will cause an increased risk in cancer independent of physical activity levels. It is therefore recommended that one should consciously limit the time spent watching TV and other screen-based entertainments. It is also recommended that children and adults should breakup their sitting-down periods, let it be at work or watching TV, traveling on a plane or during long distant driving with interspersing intervals of standing or short exercises. We as humans are not built to cope with sedentariness, start moving and life will prosper.

  • Probiotics

    People generally regard bacteria as harmful and equate them as germs. There are countless ads on TV for bacteria removal. We are taught from a young age to wash our hands after coming home from outside, after going to the bathroom, before touching food, before touching newborn babies…for the purpose of removing bacteria. Disaster flicks such as the 2001 film "Anthrax", as well as various news reports of incidents associated with "meningococcus (meat-eating bacteria)" or "superbugs" really made us flinch at the mere mention of the word "bacteria". Amidst all this negativity and fear towards bacteria, we need to understand that not all of them are bad. While only the bad guys made it onto the news, it is the good guys that keep us healthy and well.

    In fact, we cannot live a healthy life without the help of bacteria. There are, on average, 1.1-2.7kgs of bacteria inside of a human body (exact kgs may vary depends on the sources and human subjects). Yes! That's right! Each one of us has kilos of bacteria living inside of us, they live up your nose, in your hair and in your gut, they are pretty much everywhere. Now consider the small size of a single bacterium, a kilo of them means that there are really a lot of bugs. There can be up to 100 trillion bacteria living in your intestine alone, that's almost 10 times the number of human cells present in the entire human body. That's not all, it has been suggested that there are an average of 500 different species of bacteria living in the intestines. These bacteria are what we commonly call intestinal microflora or simply "the good bacteria", which can help us regulate the function and development of the digestive system, maintain proper immune function, reduce/eliminate the number of bad bacteria that we are scared of, and produce useful nutrients and substrates that the body needs. Intestinal microflora are so important to us, they are part of us, so much so, they have been dubbed as the "forgotten organ" of the human body (O'Hara and Shanahan 2006). In this article, we will explore some facts about the good bacteria in our gut, their significance, and what can we do to make sure that they do their jobs properly.

    Intestinal Microflora

    How did the bacteria get in there and what can influence their composition?

    The gastrointestinal track of a normal fetus is thought to be sterile. Infants acquire the bacteria from their mother and the surrounding environments during and shortly after birth. It would take up to one month for the intestinal microflora to be well established in an infant after natural birth and up to 6 months if the infant was born by caesarean delivery (Gronlund et al. 1999, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition). The composition of the intestinal microflora can be influenced by the diet and living environment of a person.

    The use of antibiotics is the biggest culprit for disrupting the natural balance of intestinal microflora. A course antibiotics will not only kill off the bad bacteria that gave you the diseases, it will also destroy good bacteria along with it. Some diseases can also disrupt the balance of the microflora. The use of probiotics can attenuate the imbalance and potentially return the intestinal microflora to normal levels.

    What are probiotics and what are their benefits?

    Probiotics are defined as non-pathogenic living microorganisms that contribute to the intestinal microbial balance when consumed in adequate amounts (Modified from Parker 1974). The most common natural probiotics are fermented foods such as yogurt, cheese and sauerkraut. In comparison, probiotic supplements are more concentrated and defined, but have a less variety of microorganisms compared to natural foods. Even though there are hundreds of species of beneficial microorganisms naturally living in the gut, years of research have helped to identify the most potent ones of the lot. Hence most probiotic supplements today contain a large number of the few bacterial species and strains. These bacteria have a high survival rate to ensure that there will be enough of them that can pass through the acidic environment of the stomach to reach the intestines after ingestion and stay alive. The most commonly used bacterial species in probiotic supplements are various strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

    What are the positive effects of probiotics?

    The positive effects of probiotics have been widely researched over the years in both animals and humans. The use of probiotics in humans is thought to have the following benefits (Toole and Cooney 2008, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases):

    • Improve immune function by enhance T-cell (a type of immune cell of the adaptive immune system) numbers and activation levels.
    • Reduce inflammation by promoting the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
    • Reduce symptoms caused by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
    • Reduce number of pathogens in the gut by directly inhibiting their growth.
    • Reduce the risk of certain cancers by detoxifying carcinogenic (cancer causing) metabolites.
    • Enhance the value of nutrients by producing vitamins and co-factors.
    • Improve the function of gut barrier by promoting its integrity.
    • Reduce allergy and food intolerance symptoms by suppression of hypersensitivity and catabolize dietary ingredients.
    • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by de-conjugate bile salts to reduce cholesterol levels and produce anti-hypertensive peptides.

    Effects of probiotics on metabolic disorders, diabetes and obesity

    Recent studies have linked intestinal microflora imbalance to metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes and obesity. It has been found that obese animal and human subjects have altered intestinal microflora composition in comparison to their lean counterparts (Sanz et, al. 2010, The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society). It is thought that intestinal microflora can provide additional metabolic functions and regulate the host's gene expression to improve the body's ability to extract and store energy from diet, and thus influence body weight. The supplementation of probiotics and its effect on body weight composition has been investigated. The supplementation of bifidobacterial in rats yielded reduced body weight and fat accumulation as well as their lipid profile and glucose-insulin homeostasis compared to the control rats. On the other hand, the studies conducted using human subjects are inconclusive and yielded mixed results (Shen et al. 2012, Molecular Aspects of Medicine). The duration of the studies were too short to determine the effect on body weight, and the parameters of many studies were usually not well defined (Sanz et, al. 2012, Pharmacological Research). Thus, better designed studies and further in-depth analysis are required to determine the effects of various strains of microbes on obesity and other metabolic disorders.

    Probiotics and sports

    Heavy and prolonged exercise, such as marathon running can increase the risk of upper respiratory track infections, and strenuous exercise can cause gastrointestinal symptoms (Kekkonen et al. 2007, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). The administration of probiotics (lactobacillus) has been found to reduce the length of time an athlete experience respiratory symptoms (Cox et al. 2010, British Journal of Sports Medicine) and shorten the duration of gastrointestinal symptoms (Kekkonen et al. 2007, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism) post exercise. However, the supplementation of probiotics did not seem to improve the performance of the athletes in the above studies.

    Risks of taking probiotics

    There are always two sides of every story and the use of probiotics is no exception. The following points need to be considered before choosing and taking probiotics to ensure maximum benefits with minimum side effects.

    • Probiotics are living microorganisms thus may cause infections in immunocompromised people.
    • Probiotic supplements may cause allergic or food intolerance reactions. These reactions may be caused by the ingredients contained in the probiotics to keep the microorganisms alive. Therefore, it is important to choose the right product that does not contain undesirable ingredients (ie. Choose dairy free probiotics if you are allergic to dairy products).
    • Even though it is rare, but probiotics can sometimes interact with other drugs such as sulfasalazine.
    • Taking probiotics can sometimes cause digestive discomfort, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation and flatulence. The discomfort usually goes away within a week after continued ingestion. However, sometimes the discomfort may be caused by a particular type of probiotics and when such incident occurs, changing to a different brand of probiotics may eliminate the problems.

    Final words

    Maintaining a properly balanced intestinal microflora is essential for living a healthy, feel-good life. Of course, not disturbing the balance of the microflora in the first place would be ideal. However, such feat is difficult to achieve for most people, for instance, most of us have taken antibiotics at some point in our lives. Taking appropriate probiotics supplements can provide the means of replenish the beneficial microflora population in the gastrointestinal track and hence to help the body to regain its balance that was once disrupted.

  • Glycemic index, its perks, and limitations

    The glycemic index or GI is the measurement of the blood sugar level increase in response to consuming carbohydrates (usually 50 grams) contained in foods. The value of GI is relative to that of pure glucose, which has a GI of 100. It is acknowledged that a GI of 70 or above is considered as high, a GI of 56 - 69 is medium, and a GI of 55 or less is considered as low. Foods with a higher GI number will induce a greater and more rapid the blood sugar response after ingestion; and conversely, food with a low GI will induce a more slow and steady glucose release.

    The concept of GI was initially introduced by Jenkins et al. in 1981, originally designed as a food guide for people with diabetes. Due to the importance of carbohydrates and sugar in body's metabolism and function, GI has since been widely adapted by the non-diabetic population as a guide to optimize diet and performance. Here we have a brief look at the role of GI control in weight management, exercise and limitations of using GI as a sole measure for blood sugar control.

    Effects of GI on weight management and health

    It is estimated that there are over 1 billion overweight adults in the world and 300 million of those are obese. It has been proposed that the population's increased consumption in high energy, high fat and high sugar diet coupled with low physical activity are the main causes of overweight (Lopes da Silva and de Càssia Gonçalves Alfenas, 2011, Nutrición Hospitalaria). Being the main energy course of human diet, the amount of carbohydrates ingested thus has a significant influence on human health.

    GI links to obesity and other health problems

    There is evidence suggesting that low GI diets may be protective against the development and obesity of related disease such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart diseases (Barclay et al. 2008, Amercian Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Low GI diets have been linked with improved BMI (Ma et al. 2005, American Journal of Epidemiology). High GI diets have been linked with increased body fat mass, body weight and waist circumference in women over a 6-year period, but not in men (Bare-Bruun at al. 2006, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). A diet based on high carbohydrates, low GI foods has been found to reduce the sugar and insulin hike post-eating without increasing LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) or serum triglycerides (level of fat in blood) (Brand-Miller et al. 2009, Journal of the American College of Nutrition). Low GI diets have been found to be more effective in promoting weight loss in children and adolescents than low fat diets (Esfahani et al 2011, IUBMB Life). A meta-analysis concluded that (after analysed 6 trials) strict low GI diets resulted in significant reduction in weight, total fat mass, and BMI compared to people with normal diets (neither high GI nor low GI) in adolescent and adults (Thomas et al. 2007, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews). Another meta-analysis study compared results from 23 studies and found that low GI diets can effective induce weight loss (Livesey 2008 et al. 2008, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

    There has been inconclusive evidence showing that low GI diets may reduce the risk of various cancers, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, however, the results of various studies are inconsistent and as such this is an area warrants further scientific investigation (Esfahani et al. 2009, Journal of the American College of Nutrition). Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence to show that low GI diets are effective in weight management and can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and possibly a range of other health related complications such as cancer.

    GI is affected by combining different types of food

    GI provides values for individual foods. However, when a food is included into a meal, the GI of the meal will not be the same as the GI of the individual food. Contents from other co-ingested food, such as protein, fat, soluble dietary fiber and even acidic compounds will have an influence on the glucose and insulin response to the meal as a whole (Bornet 2007, Apetite). It is generally agreed that the GI of a meal should be the calculated by the GI of individual food weighed by their percentage of carbohydrate contribution to the entire meal. Thus the overall GI of a meal can be reduced (without being unhealthy) by incorporating foods contain high levels of dietary fiber.

    GI and exercise

    The manipulation of GI for optimizing exercise performance and post-exercise recovery is an exciting new area of research in sports nutrition. However, studies to date yielded mixed results on whether GI manipulation can actually enhance performance. More research into the effects of GI on exercise is clearly required. Therefore, it is important to look at the findings of these studies in a critical manner. Here we present to you some of the recent findings regarding to GI manipulation and exercise.

    Effects of GI on exercise and recovery

    It has been found that the ingestion of carbohydrate before and during a workout can improve performance. For details of this please refer to the article "Are sports drinks beneficial during workouts?" from the previous issue. While a small number of studies suggested that eating low GI foods before an exercise is beneficial, as the more sustained release of glucose can maintain the energy levels of athletes during the session, the majority of the studies concluded that GI of the ingested meals before exercise has no impact on performance (Donaldson et al. 2010, International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism). It is worth noting that a portion of the small number of studies where a pre-exercise low GI meal did enhance performance, the subjects were conducting workouts at lower intensities (3 out of 4 such studies showed improvement). The catch is that this improvement of performance would diminish if the intensity was maxed at any time during the exercise (Mondazzi and Arcelli 2008, Journal of American College of Nutrition). Therefore, to benefit from a low GI pre-exercise meal from a performance point of view, one has to maintain a consistently low intensity performance throughout the entire course of the workout.

    On the other hand, there's good evidence suggesting that consuming pre-exercise low GI foods can prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) that are usually experienced towards the end of prolongs exercise, as compared to consuming high GI pre-exercise foods. Preliminary research also showed that consuming low GI foods before exercise can induce greater plasma free fatty acids levels in comparison to consuming high GI foods. Free fatty acids are used as energy fuel and can be oxidized by the muscle during exercise, therefore support better energy metabolism. Even though the performance enhancing property of a low GI pre-exercise meal is highly questionable, there is enough evidence to show that low GI foods can at least enhance energy metabolism and thus can be deemed as more beneficial in comparison to high GI foods as pre-exercise meals.

    Effects of GI on post exercise recovery

    In contrast, it's almost universally agreed that high GI foods/meals can increase muscle glycogen resynthesis, replenish glucose storage after a workout session. It has been shown in one study that the increase in muscle glycogen concentrate from the end of exercise to end of 24 hour recovery period was 50% greater in people consumed high GI foods in comparison to those who had low GI foods (Burke et al. 1993, Journal of Applied Physiology). Consuming high GI foods after a workout can speed up immediate post-exercise recovery.

    The limitations of GI and glycemic load

    Many manufacturers advertise their food as having a "low GI" and this may have created misconceptions in the public that low GI = healthy. Well, here is something for you to think about: a super supreme pizza from a popular fast food franchise has a GI of 36, whereas green peas have a GI of 51; here is another one, the GI of premium full cream vanilla ice cream is 38, and the GI of grapes is 59; and there is one more, the GI of watermelon is 71, whereas the GI of microwave chicken nuggets is 46. In each case, the junk food wins the low GI contest hands down compared to natural fruits and vegies. But would you really honestly think a super supreme pizza is healthier than fresh green peas? Our examples show that lower GI doesn't necessary mean healthier, what is it then?

    GI is originally created as a simple tool to measure of how quickly the blood sugar level would rise after consuming 50 grams of pure carbohydrate equivalent from a specific food. And that is that, it doesn't measure fat content, or calories, or additives, it is only an index to predict sugar levels in blood in response to consuming carbohydrates. This means that food contains pure trans fat (no carbohydrates) would probably have a GI of close to 0, and trans fat is certainly not healthy. On top of that, GI doesn't tell you how much carbohydrate there is in a specific type of food either, and this is the real limitation of using GI as a sole gauge of sugar control. As we stated before, GI is established by measuring the change in blood glucose levels after consuming 50 grams of carbohydrates. Now, carrots and super supreme pizzas have a similar GI, however, it would require a lot of carrots to equate 50 grams of carbs and it is unlikely for anyone to eat that many carrots in one serving. This means the carbs in carrots would have a much-reduced effect on blood sugar in real life situations than the published GI. In contrast, pizzas contain a much higher percentage of carbs and it would not take much to consume the 50-gram portion. You see the problem? It is okay to compare GI of similar types of foods. But comparing GI dissimilar foods without knowing their carbohydrate content can be very misleading, it's like comparing the weight of people without knowing their heights and gender. People in the profession realized this limitation of GI and hence another form of measurement was developed, this is called glycemic load, GL.

    GL combines GI and the amount of carbohydrates contained in a serving of a particular food, gives a much fuller picture on how foods can affect our blood sugar. A GL of less than 10 is considered as low, 11-19 is considered as medium and 20 or more is considered as high. Watermelon has a GI of 71, that is quite high, but as it only contains around 5% carbs, that gives each serving (120g) a GL of 4, which is low. In contrast, even though s super supreme pizza has a much lower GI compared to the watermelon, each serving (100g, just under 2 slices) would yield a much higher GL of 9, that's not too bad actually, considering how unhealthy we think fast food pizzas are.

    This brings me to the final point that I want to make: both GI and GL are measurements of the effects of carbohydrate on blood sugar ONLY, and they can only measure foods that contain carbs. Pure fat without any carbs would have a GI and GL of both 0, but it is by no means healthier than fruits and vegies with much higher GI/GL. Two slices of super supreme pizza may have a GI and GL in the relatively lower range, but it also contains quite a bit of fat and is quite high in calories, both are not accounted for in the GI and GL measurements. That being said, GL is a more sensible way of measuring how carbohydrates in a particular food can affect blood sugar levels compares to GI, and should be used in conjunction with other criteria to assess the quality of a particular food.

    The infamous last words
    The GI/GL are nifty tools to predict blood sugar response after ingesting food. They can be used to optimize diet in order to achieve a better health. Use it wisely, don't abuse it.

  • Biological clocks, circadian rhythm and weight control

    Many associate weight gain with eating high fat, high calorie food, and a lack of exercise. Recent advances in medicine discovered that there is another important factor, possibly more important than the type of food you eat, which could affect the body's weight. That is our own biological clock. Most of us know that the "biological clock" is important in regulating the daily functions of our bodies, what we don't realize, is just how important this clock really is; and the fact that the "biological clock" is actually an intricate network of "clocks", which are made up by a group of molecules that is present in nearly all cells throughout our bodies. This means almost every single cell in our body has its own clock. All these clocks are controlled, synchronised and coordinated by a master clock in the hypothalamus of the brain called suprachiasmatic nucleus pacemaker neurons. The biological clock influences almost all physiology and behavior in humans, such as sleep-wake cycles, cardiovascular activities, endocrine system that controls the body's metabolisms and hormone levels, kidney activities, and gastrointestinal and liver functions. In addition, the biological clock has been linked directly to lipid (fat) metabolism (Froy 2010, Endocrine Reviews). The disruption/alteration of these clocks will have implications on the gastrointestinal and metabolic functions of the body and consequently influence our food digestion, processing and absorption that are essential for maintaining a healthy body weight and personal well-being.

    The regulation of our master clock is based on the 24-hour light and dark cycle where our earth rotates along its axis. As such, the principle signal for the regulation of our master clock is light, which then sends output signals to the clocks in other cells of the rest of the body to synchronize their functions. This system allows the body to produce optimal functions at optimal times within a 24-hour day. However, unlike the master clock in the brain, the individual clocks in our tissues can also be affected and reset by stimuli other than light, such as eating times. As a result, this can create time "misalignment" between individual clocks in our body and the mater clock in the brain.

    Circadian rhythm is the daily physiological and behavior patterns driven by our biological clocks. Part of its functions is metabolizing food and nutrients and managing energy input and expenditure, hence maintaining optimal body weight. This rhythm can be disrupted by our own voluntary behaviors, such as irregular eating habits or working irregular shifts, outside the control of the master clock in our brain. When time misalignment occurs between different parts of the body, the balance of the body's energetics and metabolism will be disturbed, and potentially serious health related issues would follow, including obesity and diabetes (Wong et al. 2007, PNAS; Scott et al, 2008, International Journal of Obesity), which in turn will affect circadian rhythm, creating a vicious circle.

    Ok, until now I have emphasized enough about the importance of our biological clocks and circadian rhythm in maintaining a healthy body weight, and probably scared enough people about the potential metabolic and weight management complications associated with the disruption of this rhythm. The reality is, we live in a highly stressful and demanding society, it is almost impossible for an average Joe like you and me, to plan our lives based on our innate rhythms and clocks. We need to work with other people's schedules, we have responsibilities on our shoulders and deadlines to meet, all at the expense of our circadian rhythm. But remember, at the end of the day, we neglected one thing that is the most precious to us, our own health. Although it is unrealistic to plan our daily lives fully based on our own exact circadian rhythms, partly because even with all the advanced medical technologies at hand, we are still not sure what the precise rhythm for each organ is, we could follow some general principles, which would put us more or less on the ball park.

    Evidence has indicated that there is a direct link between the fluctuation of the body temperature of a mammal throughout a day (yes, the body temperature of warm blooded mammals fluctuates) and circadian rhythm (Buhr et al. 2012, Science). By looking at a graph of an average person's body temperature cycle, it is not hard to figure our how we should plan our daily activities. The body temperature is an indication of metabolic rate, and it is at the lowest at around 6am each day and gradually increases as the day goes on. There is a little dip in temperature at around 1pm, which is why many of us feel tired and sleepy at around that time. Body temperature reaches its highest level at around 6pm and then it's all downhill from there, until reaching the lowest point at 6am, the cycle is complete.

    circadian-rhythmResults from numerous studies unanimously concluded that the time one eats and the time one sleeps are two important daily rituals that help to manage body weight and BMI, more so than the amount of calories contained in the food. Our body functions according to the 24-hour light-dark cycle. At light we eat; at dark we sleep.

    Since we first came to existence, our body is designed to fast overnight and only eat during the day. This practice follows our natural circadian rhythm and allows our organs and tissues to properly rest and recover from a day's activities. However, we now live a very different lifestyle compared to what we are evolved as humans to live. This disrupts the metabolic pathways controlled by our natural circadian rhythm, and some speculate that it is one of the main causes of the current obesity epidemic in many first world countries.

    It has been shown that eating at night is less satisfying than eating in the morning, which results in over-eating (de Castro, 2004, Journal of Nutrition). Nighttime eating can result in higher fatty acid uptake and triglyceride storage in scientific studies conducted in animals (Bray and Young, 2007, Obesity Review). A more recent study also found that mice eating during a restricted 8-hour period are significantly leaner and healthier than those consumed the same amount of calories but were allowed to eat freely throughout the day, regardless of the content and quality of the diet (Hatori et al. 2012, Cell Metabolism). This suggests that having a high fat diet is not the main culprit for weight gain. The time which people eat their meals can have a bigger impact on body weight and metabolic functions. If the Hatori study is applicable in humans, by consuming food frequently only during the 8 hour day period and fast at night, we will cure obesity, regardless of what type of food we eat. How about that?

    Another important aspect of maintaining correct circadian rhythm is sleep. Sleep depreciation, short sleep and poor sleep quality have been associated with diabetes, higher BMI, metabolic syndrome, increased appetite and obesity (Huang et al. 2011, Journal of Clinical Investigations). People who habitually sleep less than 6 hours or over 9 hours per night have an in crease risk of developing type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance (Gottlieb et al. 2005, Archives of Internal Medicine). The duration of wakefulness at times when one should be sleeping is directly related to BMI and waist to hip ratio independent of age, sex and physical activity (van Amelscoort et al. 1999, International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders). So if you want to be lean, make sure to sleep 7-8 hours a day, can't be that hard!

    It is true that many of the studies mentioned above were conducted using animals not humans. However, the biological clock is present in all living things on earth, even in plants. Its function to regulate the body's physiology and behavior based on the 24-hour earth cycle is shared across species. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that findings from animal studies can be translated into humans, possibly with small variations of course.

    Even though living a balanced life based on the biological clock and circadian rhythm has been described in alternative medicine for centuries, it is still a relatively new field in modern western medicine and science. Modern technologies however, provided concrete scientific evidence linking the biological clock with the well-being of the body as well as obesity. Thus by adapting eating/sleeping habit with this rhythm, one can maximize the body's potential, and subsequently improves its well-being.

    An adaptation of the appropriate eating/sleeping pattern for obtaining the ultimate lean body based on the circadian rhythm should look something simple like this: eat regularly during the day, have more food in the morning and gradually decrease the amount as the day goes by; try not to eat at night if you can help it and make sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sounds simple, right? Of course, each person is different. This is just a basic framework that can be modified based on one's own personal circumstances. The important thing is that you know the science behind it.

    Researching and writing this article made me realize just how in-one we are with our surrounding environments, the earth and even the universe. We function by the basic rules of nature, regardless of how superior we think we are compare to other organisms on earth. We all want to be healthy and feel good about ourselves. We pursue that by taking the best supplements, go through the tedious exercise regimes, eat some of the most ridiculous foods. They do work, however, we forgot the most basic and important factor, the rhythm of ourselves. Play by rule of nature and you will live a healthy and feel-good life.

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