Working the night shift or generally getting a lack of sleep at night may trigger gut changes that pave the way for a number of inflammatory intestinal disorders, according to a new study. The reason boils down to the body’s internal clock and how easily it can be disrupted, causing a cascade of effects that impact many parts of the body. In the case of gut health damage, the consequences were found to impact immune cells called Type 3 Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILC3s).
Researchers with the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown explain that in addition to the brain’s circadian clock, which is control by exposure to daylight, most cells in the body also feature what is called ‘clock genes.’ The expression of these genes enables them to follow the body’s overall circadian rhythm, ensuring all systems of the body remain on the same page.
The researchers explain that cell ‘clocks’ can be out of sync with each other because they’re not exposed to sunlight. That’s where the brain’s circadian clock comes in, operating as the sort of master control that keeps the result of the cell clocks synchronized and the body healthy.
The aforementioned ILC3 immune cells work in the gut by helping control and heal the epithelium, as well as fighting infections, among other things. These same cells were found to be particularly sensitive to disruptions to their clocks, as well, which results in far less ICL3s in the gut. The consequences of the reduced ICL3 levels included ‘severe inflammation,’ increased fat gain and a breach of the gut barrier.
Past research has found that individuals who work during the night shift are more likely to gain weight and suffer from other health consequences, things often associated with too little sleep or poor sleep quality due to disrupting the body’s natural sleep cycle. This latest study hints that frequently changing time zones, staying up too late, skipping a night of sleep and other similar activities may trigger inflammation-based gut conditions.