Right food at the right time is key to restoring our body clock and gut health

8 March 2019

Eating right is a strategy to control the harmful effects of poor sleep, a common problem in modern society. Fibre-rich foods consumed at the right time may help restore our body clocks by improving our gut microbial balance. 

Our bodies have a natural internal clock – or circadian rhythm – that is designed to regulate our activities (like sleep and wakefulness), and can be influenced by external cues. Modern-day stressors and dietary habits affect our energy and disrupt not only our body clock but also the circadian rhythms of millions of microorganisms that live inside our gut and regulate our digestive system. 

Plant & Food Research scientist Dr Shanthi Parkar and her research colleagues at University of Amsterdam and University of Auckland examined evidence associating gut microbiota (the microorganism community in our gut) with factors that impact our circadian rhythm. 

Current literature reveals a link between the circadian rhythms of humans and gut microbiota. Human (host) behaviours such as sleep, diet, eating patterns, light exposure and stimulants (e.g. caffeine) may affect our gut microbiota rhythms. The natural functions of gut bacteria such as breaking down food and generating energy are lost when our body rhythm is disturbed. This loss of microbial rhythm and activity may partially contribute to increased risks of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Dr Parkar says, “Delays in evening meals or bedtime are increasingly common due to lifestyle choices, long work hours, shift work, or frequent travel in different time zones. Manipulating the microbiota is a promising strategy to restore our body’s circadian rhythm and state of equilibrium.

“Thinking about what and when we eat might provide natural strategies to modulate our microbiota. Plant foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables are a rich source of fibre and polyphenols that are important sources of nutrients for our gut microbiota.”

Plant & Food Research works with a variety of foods - including berries, cherries, kiwifruit, leafy greens and cereals - that support the growth of favourable bacteria in the gut. These foods play a role in maintaining gut health and protect against pathogens as well as resynchronise body clocks. Dr Parkar is investigating the impact of consuming these nutritious foods during the day and limiting food intake before bedtime, as restricted feeding has been shown to help restore circadian rhythms.

The review paper, “Potential Role for the Gut Microbiota in Modulating Host Circadian Rhythms and Metabolic Health” is published in academic journal Microorganisms (https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2607/7/2/41).

Nickkita Lau
Senior Communications Advisor, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
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