Knights of the Pain Table

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Malfunctioning Circadian Clock May Cause Some Diseases and Disorders

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Our Circadian Clock and New Research

The term "circadian" comes from the Latin ‘circa’, meaning "around", and ‘diem’, meaning "day". A circadian rhythm is an endogenous (self-sustained) driven 24-hour cycle in biochemical, physiological or behavioural processes. It is adjusted to the environment by external cues, such as daylight.

A great deal of research on biological clocks was done in the later half of the 20th century. Circadian rhythmicity show clear patterns in core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities.

The primary circadian "clock" in mammals is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a pair of distinct groups of cells located in the hypothalamus(a portion of the brain). The SCN takes information received from the retina, interprets it and passes it on to the pineal gland, located on the epithalamus. Then the pineal secretes the hormone melatonin.

Over the past decade independent circadian rhythms have been found in many organs and cells in the body outside of the SCN, the "master clock". These smaller clocks, called peripheral oscillators, are found in the oesophagus, lungs, liver, pancreas, spleen, thymus and the skin.

The latest research now shows that an organ operates on its own internal clock, producing enzymes and molecules and the brain makes sure all the clocks are synchronized.

Dyssynchrony between the brain and the rest of the organs, or between individual organs can lead to problems. Dr. Turek, a biology sciences professor and director of Northwestern University’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology in Evanston, Ill., explains that if the pancreas is out of sync with the liver, for example, insulin production may be too low or too high.

Dr. Turek’s team have been studying how disruption in circadian rhythm may contribute to disease and whether normalizing circadian rhythm within cells could help prevent or treat conditions including colitis, diabetes and obesity.

A team from the University of Pennsylvania led by medicine and genetics professor Mitch Lazar, found that manipulating clock genes could have implications for diabetes or fatty liver disease.

This new understanding of developing disease and other disorders due to a biological clock that is not functioning may help many in the future. Those who suffer with chronic pain should perhaps follow this research due to the fact pain often disrupts sleep patterns.

Source: How Your Schedule Can Help (or Hurt) Your Health (from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network) by Shirley S. Wang

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