The links between the circadian rhythm and overall health and functioning are many. Indeed, they run deep, impacting the very mechanics of numerous bodily processes and even how effective certain types of medicines are. Affected by a variety of factors, the timing of the approximately 24-hour circadian rhythm cycle can vary from individual to individual. Unfortunately, there is not yet a simple, accurate means of testing to find out a person’s specific circadian rhythm. However, according to the results of a University of Colorado at Boulder study, a circadian rhythm blood test may soon be developed.
The Health Value of a Circadian Rhythm Blood Test
The field of chronobiology has greatly deepened the understanding of the impact circadian rhythm timing has on human health. Circadian rhythm disruption has been associated with a higher risk of a number of health conditions. These include certain types of cancers, such as breast cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type two diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and mood disorders have been linked to circadian rhythm disruptions.
The circadian rhythm helps to synchronize the body clocks at work throughout the body. Those clocks regulate the timing of countless bodily processes, right down to the tasks performed by individual cells. Operating on an approximately 24-hour schedule, this timing system helps regulate the actions of the immune system, hormone production and the metabolic system. Learning more about these rhythms and timing systems has allowed medical science to enhance the efficacy of medications and treatments for some diseases and health conditions.
With the variability of individual circadian rhythms, a test able to simply and accurately determine a person’s specific circadian rhythm would be an invaluable medical tool. It could help customize the use and timing of medicine and other treatments to the specific needs of an individual patient.
For example, some medications, such as those used to treat cardiovascular conditions, are most effective at a specific time of day or point in the 24-hour cycle, typically determined by the circadian rhythm, which synchronizes the body clocks.
Having specific circadian rhythm information can help a person to maintain health as well, according to CU Boulder assistant professor of integrative physiology Christopher Depner, one of the researchers involved in the study. With specific information about their own circadian rhythm timing, people can plan their meals, exercise, sleeping and waking times for optimal health and well-being.
Researchers Move Closer to Developing Blood Test
Published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, the study conducted by University of Colorado at Boulder researchers found that they could use a single, simple blood draw to obtain circadian rhythm information. They were able to do this by first determining which metabolites were linked to circadian rhythm timing. They did this via blood tests and a machine learning algorithm.
Once those specific metabolites were identified, the researchers were able to test for their presence in the right proportions in a single draw of blood to predict circadian rhythm timing. They came within an hour of the timing results offered by hourly blood tests for melatonin levels, a far more time consuming and complicated means of gaining circadian rhythm timing information. The researchers found that this single draw blood test was significantly more accurate when the study participant was well rested and had not recently consumed any food.
The researchers were pretty excited about their results, as well they should be. They have made significant progress toward a simple, more affordable type of circadian rhythm timing test. Simple and more affordable tends to translate into more widely accessible for the average patient to benefit from. Research into refining those encouraging results into a usable and reliable test is ongoing.
Support Your Circadian Rhythm Health
Almost every element of your health is impacted in one way or another by your circadian rhythm health. So, while you may not have the opportunity to test for your specific circadian rhythm timing, there’s a lot you can do to promote the health and function of this essential timing system. Light is a major environmental cue for the circadian rhythm. In the context of our our evolution and history as a species, we’ve had artificial light for a comparatively brief period of time.
For optimal circadian rhythm health, we need to be far more mindful of light exposure. Morning sunlight exposure is important. It’s especially beneficial to combine that morning sun exposure with some outdoor physical activity.
Excessive exposure to bright light in the evening hours can be disruptive to the circadian rhythm and to sleep quality, another major factor impacting the circadian rhythm. Try to step outside for a few minutes at sunset for the wind down cue the diminishing evening light provides. Avoid bright overhead lights during the evening. Set aside screens and electronics at least two hours before bedtime.
Set Your Rhythm
Promote a healthy circadian rhythm by adding rhythm to your life. Set regular sleep, wake and meal times, keeping the same schedule each day, even on days off and holidays. Make a healthy, whole food diet your goal and try to arrange your meals within an eight or twelve hour period. These steps will help keep you and your circadian rhythm healthy and strong.