Nothing can ground you like a bad case of jet lag. Jet lag is a condition that occurs when your inner biological clock is out of sync with external (real world) time. Treatment is a tricky issue, as it remains unclear exactly how the body’s clock becomes realigned with the outside world. However, researchers at Germany’s Max Planck institute may have discovered the molecular mechanism that controls our inner biological clock, which may one day cure jetlag.
Repeated exposure to jet lag has been associated with immune deficiency and increased cancer risk. In past experiments, rodents subjected to chronic jet lag died an earlier death than rodents in a control group. This new experiment involved acclimating a group of mice to a carefully controlled time schedule: twelve hours of light, followed by twelve hours of darkness. Once the mice were accustomed to this manufactured “time zone,” the light phasing was advanced by six hours. When the experimental trials were complete, the researchers studied tissue samples under a microscope.
Surprisingly, changes were noticed not only in the organs, but within the molecular clockwork of each tissue. Through careful analysis, the researchers found that a particular group of molecules called adrenal glucocorticoids (GCs) were responsible for resetting the body’s circadian clock, realigning it with external time. They found that blocking the molecule could either prolong or shorten jet lag.
Mice treated with a GC blocker recovered from “jet lag” in seven days, as compared to nine days for mice in the control group. Researchers noted that the body’s circadian clock regulates the rhythmic release of GCs into the bloodstream. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that the adrenal circadian clock, controlled by GC rhythms, plays a key role in the rate of recovery from jet lag.
The severity of jet lag symptoms vary from case to case, but are directly related to the direction and speed of travel, as well as the number of time zones crossed. Symptoms of jet lag may include decreased alertness, insomnia, loss of appetite, mild depression, moodiness and digestive problems such as an upset stomach. The results of the experiment suggest a strong possibility of developing treatments and therapies that will better control the annoying symptoms of jet lag in humans.
Here’s to a future of healthy circadian rhythms your globetrotting adventures.