The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy, and Transform Your Health from Morning to Midnight by Satchin Panda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In The Circadian Code, researcher Dr. Satchin Panda, PhD explains the impact and significance of our internal clocks. A professor at the Salk Institute, Panda is also a founding executive member of the Center for Circadian Biology at the University of California, a Pew Scholar, and a recipient of the Julie Martin Mid-Career Award in Aging Research.
According to Patcha, daily rhythms are a driving force in all biological processes. Light exposure, exercise, and when and what we eat can all impact these internal clocks. As a result, the key to optimal health is to align our behaviors with these internal mechanisms to ensure we are working with as opposed to against our physiology.
A relatively new field of biology, the impact of these circadian rhythms has only recently been explored and accepted. And I think most of us intuitively understand and accept the premise. Clearly we've evolved to thrive in our natural environment, that until only recently hadn't changed all that much.
For example, we have a horse that literally turns into a wooly mammoth every year as winter approaches. The thickening and growth of his coat is signaled by the shortening days. In fact, since getting our horse I have learned that if you want to delay or prevent a horse's winter coat from coming in you can keep them under lights. This is because the continuous light exposure tricks a horse's body into thinking that it is still summer. The reverse process occurs during Spring, as the days lengthen. Horses will suddenly start to shed their thick winter coats.
According to Panda, humans are also very sensitive to light, and too much, too little or light at the wrong times can impact our body systems negatively since like the horse, humans have evolved with certain internal mechanisms that respond to our environment.
He blames LED lighting, computer screens and other sources of artificial light. as well as shift worker and other lifestyle changes made possible thanks to artificial light as a contributing factor to poor sleep and an increase in chronic diseases.
But it's not just our exposure to light that matters when it comes to keeping our internal clocks running smoothly and on time. Our digestive system is also a key player, with the timing of our meals being a significant factor. He claims that the ideal method of eating is one that restricts eating to less than 12 hours a day at a minimum with additional benefits seen if eating is restricted to 8 hours. He calls this "time restricted eating" or TRE, but it sounds an awful lot like intermittent fasting. He also suggests eating your last meal at least 3-4 hours before bedtime to allow the digestive system to do its thing. According to Panda, eating too close to bedtime causes our digestive system to kick into gear at a time when it wants to shut down. This can cause reflux/heartburn, poor inadequate digestion, a delay in the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) as well as increased circulating levels of insulin. It can also delay or minimize our fat burning capabilities while sleeping.
In fact, Panda spends a good bit of the book discussing TRE and its benefits as identified through his own research that you can sign up to participate in if you'd like and are willing to track your eating for the advancement of science.
It's certainly an interesting topic. We know that the calories in vs. calories out model of obesity is flawed. We also know that our weight problem also can't be fully explained by looking at activity levels. I think this adds another dimension to the discussion. If you believe Panda, many of his research participants report losing weight through TRE regardless of what they eat, leading Panda to conclude that what we eat may not be as important as when. That said, he does advocate for a healthy diet. Just saying.
Definitely worth the read.