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Until 2014, most circadian researchers believed our body clocks regulated between 10 and 30 percent of our genes. They’ve since discovered that closer to 50 percent of our genes follow a 24-hour cycle, and this revelation has sparked a surge of research — some of which examines whether circadian rhythms might be leveraged to create more-effective medical care.

Because circadian-controlled genes follow a predictable daily schedule, healthcare practitioners have begun to experiment by timing medical interventions for maximum impact. Just as you’d drink coffee or tea in the morning to help yourself wake up and avoid them in the evening when your body needs to wind down, the best time to target circadian-controlled genes with medication may be the point in a 24-hour period when they would be most receptive to its effects.

Findings from a review published in the journal Hypertension in 2021 suggest that taking blood pressure medications at a specific time each day may improve outcomes.

Emerging research on circadian rhythms and cancer has also produced eye-opening results. A study published in 2022 found that circadian dysregu­lation accelerates tumor growth in young people with colorectal cancer. Eating at night, sleeping during the day, and getting too little sleep are all risk factors for this population, but emphasizing a rhythmic schedule for food and sleep may help improve their health outcomes and boost survival rates.

Even tumors have a circadian schedule.

Even tumors have a circadian schedule. Metastatic tumors spread by producing and circulating tumor cells throughout the body, and experts have long assumed they shed these invasive cells constantly. But a study published in Nature in 2022 tells a different story: Metastatic breast tumors do not produce invasive cells constantly; instead, they create the most cells when the body’s asleep and are relatively unproductive during waking hours.

What’s more, the cells produced at night are likely to metastasize, whereas cells made during the day lack the ability to morph and spread. The study authors write that these findings provide “a new rationale for time-controlled . . . treatment of metastasis-prone cancers.”

Research into circadian-informed medical interventions is still in its infancy — and barriers abound: Studying large groups of individuals who have slightly different circadian schedules or who have tumors with different cyclical rhythms is a challenge; convincing research subjects to take medications within an hour-or-so window is tricky; and resistance from big pharmaceutical companies is real.

Still, the promise of circadian medicine has a lot of experts feeling optimistic. They believe it’s a healthcare approach whose time has come.

This was excerpted from “The Connection Between Circadian Rhythms and Overall Health” which was published in Experience Life.

Laine Bergeson Becco

Laine Bergeson Becco, FMCHC is an Experience Life contributing editor and functional-medicine certified health coach.

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