Metabolism may be linked to biological clock, study claims

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Your eating regimen may determine weight-loss success, and it starts at a molecular level.

New research published in the journal Scientific Reports says that fat cells have a circadian rhythm which could affect metabolic processes — meaning your own personal schedule could impact weight loss and gain.

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“This is the first time that we have been able to identify such rhythms in human fat,” says lead study author Dr. Jonathan Johnston of the University of Surrey.

Disruption and misalignment of circadian rhythms, which re-cycle every 24 hours or so, are thought to be an important contributor to weight gain and poor health.

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For the study, seven participants followed a sleep-wake-eat cycle determined by the researchers. After a few days of the regulated schedule, they underwent an unregulated 37-hour period in a lab where they experienced no changes in light and dark, and ate and slept randomly. During this time, fat tissues biopsies were taken at six intervals.

Researchers analyzed gene expression in the fat cells and found 727 genes that functioned on a circadian rhythm. They found about one third of the genes finished most of their work in the morning, while the other two-thirds came in the evening. These molecular schedules are not impacted by our own interactions with light and food; however, this research does point to a theory that time of day may have an impact on metabolism.

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“Tissues made up of fat cells don’t just store excess energy, they are active metabolic tissues, full of their own rhythms,” says Johnston. “This [research] provides us with more information about how human metabolism changes across the day and possibly why the body processes foods differently during day and night.”