Clock Alert: Disrupted Circadian Rhythm May Contribute to Cancer and Stroke

Many of the body’s biological functions are controlled by an internal biological clock known as the circadian rhythm. The complex system relies heavily on exposure to light for its regulatory effects on hormones. There has been a huge amount of research looking at the detrimental effects of disrupted circadian rhythms on the body, and the evidence suggests that just one hour’s shift can be enough to throw the body into chaos.

Of the two clock changes that occur every year, when the clock advances, the biggest disruption occurs, mainly because it results in a lack of sleep.

An hour’s change may not sound like much, but it could be detrimental to people’s mental health and well-being in the short term, warns Harvard Health.

This is because less morning light means lower levels of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin, on which our body largely depends.

READ MORE: Stroke: Millions of people are at greater risk of stroke when the clock changes

When people are exposed to light late in the evening, it also delays melatonin production, further disrupting normal sleep patterns.

According to Dr. Eva Winnebeck, professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey, the researchers tried to figure out the effect of changing hours on well-being based on the study of time zones.

“Regions in the west of the time zone, where people have to get up earlier in relation to the sun, tend to show less sleep, lower incomes, poorer health, higher cancer rates and more fatal traffic accidents,” the researcher explained.

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Some evidence indicates that circadian rhythm disturbances may contribute to an increased risk of cancer, which is consistent with studies showing that shift work promotes oncogenesis (cancer development).

In fact, the journal Cancer Research reported in 2019 that circadian rhythm disturbances are considered an independent risk factor for cancer and are classified as carcinogens.

READ MORE: Clocks are running backwards in the UK and it could cause dental problems

Epidemiological studies have shown that circadian rhythm disturbances are associated with a higher risk of prostate, colon, liver, ovarian, lung, and pancreatic cancers.

Although the increase in risk may be small, it shows how much natural light affects how we feel.

Similarly, studies show that the cardiovascular system can suffer from clock changes.

James Roy of Brainworks Neuropathic says losing an hour of sleep is especially bad for the brain.

“A week after the time change, heart attacks increased by 24%, strokes by 8%, and fatal car accidents by 6%,” he explained.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule is undoubtedly the best way to prevent disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms.

Dr. Harriet Leyland, clinical consultant at my internist, suggests changing my sleep schedule two to three days before the clock change to minimize interference.

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