Digging into the science and research connecting genetic variants with health for the past four years, I have found a common thread that connected a lot of chronic conditions that affect so many people today. That common thread is that many of the genetic variants that increase the risk of common diseases also influence or interact with the core circadian clock.
Let me give you a few examples:
- When digging into genes related to weight gain, I found that several variants of core circadian clock genes lead to an increased risk for obesity. Then I started reading about how the timing of eating and exposure to light at night both influence the expression of circadian genes as well as the risk for obesity.
- Somewhere along the way I also came across research showing that light at night increased the risk ofbreast cancer and prostate cancer. It took me a while to look into the research and mechanism of how this was possible because it just didn’t seem logical. But I’ve come to understand that the burden of evidence weighs towards light at night being a significant and real risk factor for several types of cancer mainly due to the influence of melatonin as an antioxidant.
- The connections between Alzheimer’s disease and circadian rhythm disruption are well documented. But the idea that circadian disruption can cause Alzheimer’s (rather than Alzheimer’s causing circadian disruption) is just now being shown through research. Exposure to blue light at night may be part of the huge rise in the rate of Alzheimer’s disease over the past three decades.
- Another lightbulb moment for me was when I came across the research not only showing that circadian gene variants increased the risk of depression and anxiety, but also that many of our current prescription medications for mood disorders act by modifying the expression of circadian rhythm genes. In fact, a study just came out showing that the SSRI Celexa acts, in part, by making people more sensitive to light during the daytime (thus shutting off melatonin production since we aren’t outside getting sunshine).
While I’m fascinated by the genetics side of how circadian rhythms affect our health, I’ve figured out that most of the world is not as fascinated by the exact mechanisms through which our gene expression oscillates over a 24-hour period. In fact, few people seem to be interested in listening to me talk about this topic in detail :-)
So I’ve created a second website as a reservoir of articles on circadian topics as well as articles on practical ways to optimize (or just normalize) circadian rhythm functions. The website is called Ancestral Lights – harkening back to a time when our circadian rhythm was set through sunlight (i.e. millions of years of history up until the advent of electrical lights).
I will still be writing lots of articles on Genetic Lifehacks about all kinds of topics relating to genetic variants and diet and health. But when you want to jump on the ‘optimizing circadian rhythm train’ with me, head to Ancestral Lights. In my mind (and hopefully in reality, someday), this will be a movement. A call to action for everyone.
This Ancestral Lights movement starts with individuals eliminating blue light at night and getting more sunlight or full-spectrum light during the day. But the movement doesn’t stop with just limiting blue light at night for yourself, this needs to be a public policy issue that is a priority for local municipalities, local schools, and local businesses.
Honestly, I don’t know how to affect change on that level, but I’m planning to learn how to do it and hoping that others will come alongside me to help out. Cities around the globe are switching to high output, high blue spectrum LED lights for their streetlights, and it is having unintended health consequences. Businesses and apartment complexes are increasingly adding to the blue light at night. And no, I’m not saying we need to go back to gas lanterns at night, but we have the technology to shift the lighting spectrum to one that is not as harmful.
I’ve also set a goal for myself to increase the number of posts and the regularity of posting here on Genetic Lifehacks. It is time to put all my half-written drafts, post-it notes to myself, and bookmarked genetic studies to work as actual blog posts. There is a ton of research being done on genetics and diet/gene interaction and it is time for everyone to benefit from that research.