Jet lag — a temporary sleep problem created when your body’s natural circadian rhythms are out of whack — is a common occurrence for people who regularly fly long distances and multiple time zones for business or pleasure (or do regular shift work).
You may be surprised to learn jet lag, long associated with symptoms including fatigue and sleeplessness, has become such a health problem that it’s now defined by experts as a disorder.
No wonder, considering a recent study from the Weizman Institute of Science (Israel) that compared the gut microbiota of mice at different times during a 24-hour cycle concluded jet lag may also affect your gut health and trigger more serious problems including obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
These differences between healthy and jet-lagged gut bacteria were most pronounced when comparing fecal samples from healthy mice and genetically engineered mice with disabled circadian clocks kept in normal 12-hour cycles of light and dark.
During the light phase, the healthy gut microbiomes of mice functioned normally, detoxifying their environments and building flagella that help microbes move, according to the journal Science. Bacteria were more active during the dark phase, digesting nutrients, growing and repairing DNA. During a 24-hour day, some 60 percent of bacterial types in normal mice fluctuated.
In genetically modified mice, however, their gut bacteria didn’t experience the same fluctuations of growth or activity, leading scientists to conclude an animal’s biological/circadian clock has a direct effect on gut health.
Another very noticeable and health-harming difference between both sets of mice was their eating habits. Genetically modified mice ate almost all of the time while normal mice ate only at night (when they’re very active). Additionally, the modified mice gained weight and exhibited other health complications related to diabetes (insulin resistance), according to Science.
Interestingly, this same shift in the composition of gut bacteria to unhealthy extremes was also observed during part of the study in which researchers compared the fecal bacteria of two humans who lived on a normal schedule to another pair who had travelled from America to Israel and endured jet lag.
The good news: Although the fecal samples of human subjects who were jet-lagged experienced an uptick in unhealthy bacteria linked to patients with diabetes and obesity, their microbiome returned to normal after their bodies adjusted to the distant time zone.
“Our inner microbial rhythm represents a new therapeutic target that may be exploited in future studies to normalize the microbiota in people whose lifestyle involves frequent alterations in sleep patterns, hopefully to reduce or even prevent their risk of developing obesity and its complications,” said Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute’s Immunology Department in a press release.
Dr. Elinav also believes populations harmed by jet lag or shift work may benefit from probiotics or other antimicrobial therapies that “may reduce or even prevent their risk of developing obesity and its complications.”
Just another of the many reasons travelers and swing-shift workers benefit from taking a multi-strain probiotic, like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic or EndoMune Advanced Junior (for kids) that contains multiple strains of beneficial bacteria to boost your immunity by maintaining a healthy balance of good gut bacteria.