Tag Archives: circadian rhythm

Evolution stole this dude’s circadian rhythm

I got a laugh out of this one; not for the actual content, but because of how the authors worded their findings.  They sure love their fishies.

We have two very closely related fish, both Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus, one with eyes who lives on the surface, and another who’s blind and lives in dark caves (“Pachon”).  It’s thought that they were the same species one day; divergent evolution.


note: eyeless

note: eyeless

The blind ones are circadian arrhythmic (Moran et al., 2014).  Surface-dwellers are more active during the day than night (blue line, left figure below), and their free-running circadian clock maintains this in the absence of photic input (blue line, right figure).  The blind ones, on the other hand, exhibit no circadian rhythm in the light or dark (orange lines):


Circadian rhythm metabolism


Cave-dwellers are circadian arrhythmic.  This is both in their natural photoperiod (ie, darkness) and in light-dark conditions (which is technically an environmental mismatch, but since they’re eyeless, it doesn’t really matter).

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“Afternoon diabetes” and nutrient partitioning

Don’t exacerbate afternoon diabetes with afternoon carbs.

Skeletal Muscle
As discussed previously [at length], insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle follows a circadian pattern: starts out high in the morning and wanes throughout the day.

Diurnal variation in oral glucose tolerance: blood sugar and plasma insulin levels, morning, afternoon and evening (Jarrett et al., 1972)


impaired circadian glucose tolerance in the morning


Diurnal variation in glucose tolerance and insulin secretion in man (Carroll and Nestel, 1973)

Circadian variation of the blood glucose, plasma insulin and human growth hormone levels in response to an oral glucose load in normal subjects (Aparicio et al., 1974)

Adipose Tissue
And insulin sensitivity of adipose tissue goes in the opposite direction: starts out low, and increases as the day progresses.

Diurnal variations in peripheral insulin resistance and plasma NEFA: a possible link? (Morgan et al., 1999)
The studies were standardized for a period of fasting, pre-test meal, and exercise… Following insulin, NEFA fell more slowly in the morning (149 uM/15 min) than in the evening (491 uM/15 min).

Diurnal variation in glucose tolerance: associated changes in plasma insulin, growth hormone, and non-esterified fatty acids (Zimmet et al., 1974)
Adipose tissue insulin sensitivity is greater in the evening.  FFA are higher, and get shut down more rapidly, after a carb meal in the evening.

Summary: to minimize blood glucose excursions and proclivity for fat storage, eat more calories earlier in the day; this is circadian nutrient timing.  And according to the Alves study, a low-carb protein-rich dinner best preserves lean tissue during weight loss.

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Circadian phase delays and metabolism

Remember the “jet lag-resistant” mice?  Guess what: screw with circadian biology and metabolism pays the price.

In brief, vasopressin was classically thought of as an anti-hypotensive hormone.  The vasopressin analog Desmopressin is used to treat bed-wetting.  But vasopressin biology is much more interesting than that: mice lacking both vasopressin receptors require very little time adapting to large circadian phase changes.  And as with many fundamental concepts in chronobiology, this is intimately linked with metabolism.

People with certain polymorphisms of the vasopressin receptor, V1A, exhibit elevated blood glucose levels and are at greater risk for diabetes (Enhorning et al., 2009):


This risk is strongest in men in the highest quartile of fat intake, and is statistically more significant after adjusting for age and physical activity:

Fat consumption

This study wasn’t designed to be a very powerful indicator of diet-disease relationships, but a little speculation: some think higher fat [and lower carb] intake should be protective against diabetes… which may be true, for people who can tell time.  Alter one nucleotide in the vasopressin 1A receptor gene and the game changes.

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Carb Back-Loading, take II

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with John Kiefer and his crew about Carb Back-Loading proper; we discussed the protocol and many other hormonal effects associated with this pattern of nutrient & exercise timing.  Interesting stuff; plenty of fodder for future blog posts…

Brief refresher: skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity is higher in the morning than in the evening.  Exercise boosts insulin sensitivity selectively in muscle, which is relatively more important in the evening.  Thus, an evening carb-load may benefit from exercise to effectively partition the energy influx into skeletal muscle [and away from adipose tissue].

Summary of Part 1 of my CBL review: studies on nutrient timing sans exercise aren’t entirely consistent, in part, due to reciprocal regulation of insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue.  That is, excess energy from an evening carb-load, without the exercise-induced, skeletal muscle-specific boost in insulin sensitivity, may be biased less toward muscle growth and more toward fat storage, because unlike skeletal muscle, the sensitivity of adipose tissue to insulin appears to improve as the day progresses… and without exercise to offset this, as in the studies discussed below, this may lead to suboptimal results.

*one thing Kiefer stressed, and I agree, is that the effects of any given intervention may be population-specific.  For example, he pointed out that diurnal insulin sensitivity is less robust in obese and aged populations.  So if two findings aren’t in full agreement, click the link to the study and check this first… context matters!



Tl;dr: I think high intensity exercise and possibly the time of day it’s performed, and regular bouts of fasting, are important factors that mediate the efficacy of CBL and similar protocols. Continue reading


Carb Back-Loading and the Circadian Regulation of Metabolism

Carb Back-Loading (CBL) redux, part I

Step 1: eat little in the morning (maybe some fat+protein; definitely no carb)
Step 2: exercise in the afternoon/evening
Step 3: eat the carbs, all of them.  Preferably high glycemic carbs.
Other: no dietary fat post-workout; protein periodically throughout the day.

What makes CBL different from its predecessors is the stress on the timing – exercise and carbs in the evening.  John Berardi’s “Massive Eating” dietary guidelines are similar: protein+fat meals all day except pre- and post-workout, which are protein+carb meals.  Martin Berkan’s “LeanGains” is fasting most of the time (including pre-workout), exercise in the afternoon, then a big post-workout meal (quite similar to CBL).  My only tweak, as discussed below (and previously here and here), would be a pre- rather than post-workout meal [in some contexts].

There’s a summary of this blog post at the bottom… it might be helpful to read that first (see: “Tl;dr:”).  Also, please note that much of this post is about the fringe of theoretically optimizing nutrient partitioning, like improving from 85 to 90%, or 40 to 45%, not 40 to 90%…  I’m not that deluded.

My initial take, in general, is that this book is loaded with gems about nutrition, exercise, biochemistry, and physiology.  It’s also very readable and has a lot of good recommendations.  In this post, I want to discuss one specific aspect of CBL: tissue-specific circadian regulation of metabolism.


nutrient timing


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Paleo Plants and Carnivory

From what I gather, it’s been difficult to pinpoint the role of plants in the diet of our ancestors for a variety of reasons.  For example, evidence of plants on cooking tools and dental remains is suggestive but doesn’t disprove the possibility that said evidence came from preparing the plants for some other purpose (eg, tools, weapons, or medicine), or that the stomach contents of an herbivore was ingested (which gets partial credit).

That said, after reviewing a few studies on the topic (see below), it’s safe to say that plants were eaten, probably frequently, and the types & quantities varied seasonally & geographically.  Collectively, the data suggest we aren’t carnivores.

…you had to have something to hold you over until the next fish fell prey to your deadly hunting spear…  

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Fasting, circadian biology, and epigenetics

From the best I can gather, one of the more immediate players in circadian biology is the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which participates in a variety of redox reactions.  Fasting increases the intracellular NAD/NADH ratio, setting off a cascade of events involving epigenetics and the regulation of metabolism.  HT to Jack Kruse for really cracking into this nut.

NAD activates sirtuins, a family of deacetylase enzymes.  This is epigenetics.



SIRT1 regulates the activity of BMAL1 and CLOCK, two circadian transcription factors, which target NAMPT, an enzyme that synthesizes NAD.  And in a curious feed-forward mechanism, CLOCK and BMAL1 enhance SIRT1 expression… genetic deletion of any of these players induces insulin resistance (Zhou et al., 2014), and this can be recapitulated with constant darkness: reduced BMAL1 and SIRT1, hepatic insulin resistance; the latter can be reversed with resveratrol (which may or may not be acting through SIRT1; this is controversial).  While alcohol does no great favors for circadian biology, if you’re going to imbibe, perhaps a resveratrol-rich Argentinian malbec served, and this might be the important part, at night, when all of this stuff is going on… coincidentally [fortunately], that’s precisely when most choose to imbibe.

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Angiotensin: more than just blood pressure.

Pathologically low blood pressure can lead to shock & death.  Angiotensin II is there to prevent that, but it does much more.  A bit non-sequiter, perhaps.

This is what I call teamwork: low blood pressure detected by kidneys –> secretes renin.  Angiotensinogen (liver) is cleaved by renin to Angiotensin I.  Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (lungs [among other tissues]) cleaves angiotensin I into angiotensin II.


Angiotensin II increases blood volume and restores blood pressure.  Good if you’ve lost a ton of blood fighting a wild beast; not good if you’re an overweight pen pusher on potato chips.  ACE inhibitors reduce angiotensin II, lowering blood pressure.  ACE is present in lungs probably because it deactivates bradykinin.  ACE inhibitors prevent this which might contribute to one of their side effects, a persistent dry cough which makes these drugs intolerable for many.  One alternative is angiotensin II receptor 1 blockers, or “ARBs.”

If anyone in pharma reads my blog (doubtful, unless they are monitoring for people to polonium-laced blow-dart), this will be their favorite post because I think ARBs are an interesting class of drugs.

If diet and weight loss are inadequate, telmisartan might be the next best thing to manage hypertension in diabetics:  Telmisartan for the reduction of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality (Verdecchia et al., 2011) –> effective at reducing mortality in patients with diabetes.

Efficacy of RAS blockers on cardiovascular and renal outcomes in NIDDM (Cae & Cooper 2012)  –> reduces morbidity and slows progression of renal disease (both hypertension and diabetes contribute to [irreversible] kidney damage, and frequently occur together, which makes this endpoint particularly relevant).  Hyperglycemia should be managed via diet, of course, and ARBs would need to be tested in people following something other than a Western diet (although said people may not even need treatment in the first place) (just thinking out loud here.  Or typing/whatever.)

But enough about blood pressure (<– boring); on to the more interesting stuff:

It started here: Chronic perfusion of angiotensin II causes cognitive dysfunctions and anxiety in mice (Duchemin et al., 2013)

Then: Candesartan prevents impairment of recall caused by repeated stress in rats (Braszko et al., 2012)

And: Anti-stress and anxiolytic effects of [candesartan] (Saavedra et al., 2005)

[Candesartan] prevents the isolation stress-induced decrease in cortical CRF1 receptor and benzodiazepine binding (Saavedra et al., 2006)

[Candesartan] ameliorates brain inflammation (Benicky et al., 2011)   brain inflammation induced by chronic exposure to artificial lights causes depression-like symptoms (in mice) (probably humans, too)

Finally, a human study: Candesartan and cognitive decline in older patients with hypertension (Saxby et al., 2008)

And then there’s this: Angiotensin receptor blockers for bipolar disorder (de Gois et al., 2013)

No mechanistic stuff because, well, I have no idea how it works.  On one hand, it might seem obvious that stress & anxiety can raise blood pressure, so something that lowers stress & anxiety could lower blood pressure.  Candesartan appears to do both (cause <–> effect?).  There are two unique properties of candesartan to note: 1) it gets into the brain; and 2) it leads to increased levels of angiotensin II (which presumably can’t do much because candesartan blocks the receptor for angiotensin II).  Perhaps angiotensin II targets a different receptor?  ARBs might blunt angiotensin II-induced CRH secretion, leading to anxiolysis, stress-tolerance, and pro-cognitive effects (that speculation was made possible by a thread on Avant Labs’ Forum and a few posts by Jane Plain on CRH [eg, here & here]).

Oh yeah, ARBs also prevent cafeteria diet-induced weight gain, insulin resistance, and ovulatory dysfunction [in rats] (Sagae et al., 2013).  And are sympatholytic like bromocriptine (Kishi & Hirooka 2013).

“The Angiotensin-melatonin axis” (Campos et al., 2013).

just sayin’

calories proper


Melatonin is the chemical expression of darkness.

Melatonin is secreted from the pineal gland, the seat of the soul, the third eye.   Pinealectomy induces circadian arrhythmia and has interesting effects on adipose tissue biology.

Exhibit A.  In 2004, Alonso-Vale and colleagues showed that 6 weeks after pinealectomy, [melatonin-deficient] rats subjected to fasting exhibited an impaired energy conservation response.  That is, they lost more weight and significantly depleted their adipocytes:


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Pharmaceutical-grade circadian manipulation.

BMAL1 and CLOCK, ‘positive’ regulators of circadian gene expression, activate transcription of the negative regulators Per, Cry, and Rev-erb.  PER and CRY inhibit BMAL1 and CLOCK, whereas Rev-erb inhibits Bmal1.  It is said that Rev-erb is “an important link between the positive and negative loops of the circadian clock.”  You don’t really need to know any of that to follow this blog post.

circadian genes

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