Liver health impacted by circadian clock

Jan 21, 2017

When we think of our “body clock,” sleep patterns are probably what first come to mind. But new research in the field of chronobiology -- the science of biological rhythms -- indicates certain organs have their own rhythm and clock. And altering the pattern of those rhythms can harm your health.

This week on “Take Care,” Shannon Bailey, a professor of pathology  and environmental health sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discusses the importance of the metabolic clock of the liver. Bailey’s research investigates how genetic, environmental, and life-style factors influence liver diseases.

Bailey says that new research shows that liver metabolism changes quite dramatically during the day. Different metabolic programs are turned on and off during different times during the day, which makes our bodies more metabolically efficient.

“What we now know is that when these circadian rhythms get disrupted, this might underpin a number of liver diseases,” said Bailey.

While the liver can function independently, our bodies do have a master clock in our brain, small set of neurons, that synchronizes a majority of body’s rhythms. This tiny region of our brain helps to coordinate, align and synchronize daily metabolic rhythms in various organs. But, Bailey says, all organs also have their own clocks.

Since the liver is involved in how the body responds to food intake, the liver can be reset or altered by things in our diet -- food and alcohol.

Also, shifting our sleep pattern can impact the liver’s clock. Research shows, says Bailey, that people who work the night shift are at greater risk for many conditions like diabetes, liver-related and metabolic diseases.

At night, our bodies think our activity is supposed to be low. But because people who are awake all night may be eating at night, these people are fighting against their circadian clocks, they are out of sync with the environment, says Bailey.

Varying your sleep hours, combined with more fatty foods or drinking really does impact liver, says Bailey.

Bailey says studies show that even short periods of altered days can instigate a pre-diabetic state. So, it’s important for optimal health to keep to a schedule, or you can throw your organ clocks out of whack.

How might you know that your liver clock is off? Well, unfortunately, Bailey says the signs and symptoms that indicate underlying liver disease are quite vague – things like abdominal pain and swelling, swelling of legs and ankles, chronic fatigue, nausea vomiting – which could be caused by many other things. So, many people don’t know they have liver disease until it’s in and advanced stages

So what’s the best way to keep your liver clock functioning at a high level?

Bailey’s best advice is keep to a schedule; eat a well-balanced, healthy diet; don’t eat late at night; keep consumption of alcoholic and sugary beverages to minimum; and exercise is very important.

And what about those liver detox pills or fasts you see advertised on TV?

“There’s absolutely no medical or scientific evidence to support these detox diets or these detox supplements. In fact, they can actually be quite harmful,” said Bailey.

So just avoid those liver detox plans. Because, Bailey says, the can be underlying cause injury to your liver.