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Circadian Rhythm and the Gut Microbiome

There are protocols to balance dysbiosis, or improve the diversity of your gut microbiome or to remove pathogens, however the role of our internal body clock, our circadian rhythm, is not really mentioned as a factor to consider if you suffer from IBS for instance.

What is the Circadian Rhythm?

The human body follows an internal timekeeping system known as a circadian clock.

This circadian clock governs our body’s natural ‘circadian rhythm’. The “master” body clock is a structure in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Additional body clocks, called “peripheral body clocks,” are distributed throughout organs such as the liver, pancreas and the intestines.

The master clock in the SCN regulates the activities of the peripheral clocks, and the peripheral clocks interact with one another and provide feedback to the master clock.

This feedback loop is called the circadian rhythm, and altogether they affect our daily cycles of sleep and wakefulness, hunger and digestion, hormonal activity, and other bodily processes1.

The word circadian comes from the Latin phrase “circa diem”, meaning “about a day”, referring to how most circadian rhythms automatically reset every 24 hours.

To keep our bodies running “on schedule,” our body clocks need to be synchronized with each other. This is done through cues from light, temperature, food and social interactions.

Depending on what cues we provide our bodies, and when we provide the cues over the course of a 24-hour circadian cycle, we either keep our body clocks ticking in synchrony or throw a spanner into the works, creating circadian rhythm disruption.

Why is it important to have good and synchronised circadian rhythms?

When the circadian rhythm is disrupted over a long period of time it can cause long term health implications such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, intestinal dysbiosis, inflammatory bowel disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer2.

The Circadian Rhythm and its role in the Gut microbiome

It has only recently been discovered that the cells within our intestine also have a circadian rhythm3. This intestinal circadian rhythm influences gut motility, nutrient absorption and metabolism, as well as immunity.

Disruption to the circadian rhythm via the master clock, the SCN pathway, such as abnormal sleep / wake cycles can leave the intestinal cells open to damage. As a result, poor sleep has been linked to gut disorders like IBS.

However, the circadian rhythms within the gut are not limited to intestinal cells. The collection of microbes that resides in our gut also undergoes their own circadian rhythms every 24 hours. 

The microbe circadian rhythms involve changes in the location of gut microbes within the intestine and changes to their adherence to the intestinal wall4. This movement causes different cells of the intestine to be exposed to different microbes and their metabolites at different times during the day.

The metabolites produced as a result of gut microbe circadian rhythms play a key role in the regulation of circadian clocks in the other body organs – pancreas, liver and intestine. Disruption to the gut and its microbes via diet, dysbiosis, or pathogen will therefore have a knock-on effect on our other circadian rhythms such as sleep/wake cycles, hormone release and metabolism.

A healthy microbiome is therefore essential for regulating the circadian activities of all three of these organs.

Disrupted Circadian Rhythms and its role in Gut Disorders

The converse is also then true – our main circadian rhythms such as the sleep/wake cycles also influence the circadian rhythms of our gut microbes. Combine this with a poor diet high in processed foods and polyunsaturated fats, and you may be pre-disposed to gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) due to the alterations of the metabolites that normally keep our gut healthy such as short-chained fatty acids (SCFA)5.

Circadian disruption, as seen in shift workers, has also shown to increase intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Leaky gut allows inflammatory toxins produced by bacteria to enter the blood stream. These toxins then produce inflammation at other sites around the body 6

Our circadian rhythms are linked to the rhythms of our intestinal cells and gut microbes in a multi-directional feedback loop. 

Factors that influence the health of the gut and the microbiome therefore affect our circadian rhythms, and vice versa.

Resetting the Circadian Rhythm – An essential step to better gut health

As I mentioned at the top of this blog, supporting our natural circadian rhythm is not often talked about when it comes to gut health protocols. Even for me as a Nutritional therapist, unless my client was obviously suffering from sleep issues, I didn’t cover these lifestyle changes until towards the end of my 6 month time with my clients. I found clients eager to take on new eating habits and foods, even to take complex supplement protocols, but when it came to changing their lifestyle I was constantly confronted with non-compliance and struggles in doing so from my clients.

As a result I’ve changed my own approach to improving gut conditions and start my clients making lifestyle changes to support their natural circadian rhythm from the beginning of my time with them. I now educate them on the ‘why’ behind these essential changes so by the time we’ve started a targeted protocol they are already supporting their natural body clock to enable a better outcome.

If you are interested in finding out more about how I can help you, click here and book in for a discovery call with me today.

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