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Circadian Rhythms - 2

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

Regularity in all things is essential to good health. Not only is health of the body dependent on regularity, but health of the mind and even health of the social aspects of the being are dependent on a regular lifestyle. Throughout all of nature, we find that regularity results in the very best function. Among plants, there is a regular pattern of their activity. Bean sprouts can be taken as an example. In the daytime, bean sprouts lift their little leaflets upward toward the sky, at night the leaflets are folded downward beside the stem. If a bright light is allowed to shine on the bean sprouts during the night, the next night at the same time, the bean sprouts will lift their leaflets in expectation of having the bright light shine on them. This may occur for three days in a row, until the sprouts “learn” that the expected burst of light is not going to appear.

Fiddler crabs know exactly the time of the expected tide on their home beach and time their activity to occur at the time of the tide. If the crabs are taken into the laboratory, they still maintain their regular pattern of movement according to the time the tide comes in at their home beach! Jet travel became common around 1955. At that time, it was noted that some individuals did not adjust well to being rapidly transported from coast to coast, and that three to five days or even up to two weeks or more might be required for the return of a sense of well-being after being transported across several time zones. Jet lag is caused by the fact that our various systems are on a very strict time clock.

The body is acutely aware of the passage of time. I once had a young idiot savant as a patient. These are individuals who are deficient in many areas but usually gifted along one line. “Johnny” was capable of telling time, although he was unable to read or to tell time by a clock. He could not count, except up to twelve, and by fives up to sixty. When asked what time it was, Johnny could tell the time to within five minutes. At about halfway between five-thirty and five-thirty-five, he would begin saying that it was five-thirty-five. Half-way between five-thirty-five and five-forty, he began saying it was five-forty. The physicians in charge of Johnny wondered if he could tell time in the middle of the night. Upon awakening him in the wee hours of the morning and inquiring about the time, Johnny said one-fifteen, the exact time (within his five-minute tolerance)!

A good daily routine can be worked out to cooperate best with the activities going on within the framework of the physiological processes of the body by knowledge of the following: At five o'clock, the pituitary begins its activities and sends out several hormones to arouse parts of the body. By six o'clock, the adrenals have been aroused by the action of the ACTH from the pituitary (adrenocorticotropic hormone). The adrenal then begins to kick out a small quantity of adrenaline for the next hour, which gradually arouses all of the other hormone and enzyme systems. By seven o'clock, most of these systems are awake and ready to go. By eight o'clock, there is peak performance in most systems. This peak performance continues until around two p.m., when there may be a small dip in their activity. By four or four-thirty, there is a bigger dip, and a steady dwindling off, until by three or four o'clock in the morning, the lowest ebb is reached. It can therefore be easily understood that all major meals should be eaten before four o'clock in the afternoon. One should have a small supper, if one eats anything in the evening, not a dinner.

All the body functions will join together to support the strength and sense of well-being, if they are properly programmed and "know" when to bring in their support. It can be illustrated this way: Since the thyroid activity produces body heat and an increase in the metabolic activity of all tissues, one would not want the major thyroid activity to occur during a part of the daily cycle when the temperature should be down, and metabolic activity should be low. Muscle contraction can be boosted by the various endocrines, and it should come off in the early morning when muscle contraction is most needed, not at one a.m. The gastrointestinal tract has its activity at mealtimes, and should be so programmed as to produce its major activity at that time, not between meals when that activity is costly and merely wasted effort. In order to enjoy the best of health, one must cooperate with natural law.

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