Once again, Dr. Dressler’s obsession with reading the scientific literature has been invaluable. This time, it’s not his insights into how important apoptosis is to treating cancer — it’s his realization that circadian rhythms should also be considered.
Here’s what happened. On October 2, 2017, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists; Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young for their work with the circadian rhythm, also known as the biological clock.
Long-time readers of this blog and The Dog Cancer Survival Guide know that circadian rhythm is a topic Dr. Dressler has talked about often in his discussions on chronotherapy, also called ‘time therapy.’ The drugs used to treat illnesses, given at the right times, can be extremely beneficial. Or, they could have more side effects, or even be harmful, if not given at the right time of the day.
The circadian rhythm is also important because it’s part of so many processes in the body. If the circadian rhythm is irregular, health problems may begin, including sleep disorders, obesity, bipolar disorder, depression or diabetes.
And now, the Nobel committee has named research into circadian rhythms the most significant advancement in medicine in the last year! So, just like fifteen years ago, when the same committee recognized research into apoptosis, Dr. Dressler is at the front of the pack when it comes to understanding how the most basic cellular functions impact health. Ten years ago, it was natural cell death (apoptosis) and this year, it’s the daily rhythms of the cells.
So what does all of this mean, and how can it help you help your dog? Let’s explore a little.
Circadian Rhythm Explained
The circadian rhythm is like a biological clock that runs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. This clock schedules all sorts of body processes automatically. There are dozens of things that happen without you even noticing, all of which are controlled by your circadian rhythms. The clock, or rhythms, send signals to make you feel hungry, make you feel sleepy, increase and reduce blood pressure, raise and lower body temperature, and release cortisol (the stress hormone), to name just a few.
So, as an example, the time you get tired every night is controlled by your circadian rhythm. Whether you tired at 11:00 at night, earlier, or later, depends upon your own internal biological clock.
The reason you wake up every morning at the same time, even when your alarm doesn’t go off, is also due to your circadian clock.
The body gets into a routine and has certain processes it goes through during the day, and during the night. If you wake up every morning at 7:00, work until 5:00 PM and then go to sleep at 10:00 PM, your body is set on that clock each day.
This clock works hard to keep you on your schedule, and when you try to change it, it can mess you up. For example, workers used to working days who must start working nights often have a terrible time adjusting. They feel awful at night while working, and just can’t fall asleep during the daytime. Well, that’s because their circadian clocks are trying really hard to keep them on their schedule!
Your clock knows the best time of day for all the many body processes — hormone shifts, breathing rates, blood sugar levels — and wants you to stay in sync with nature. After a few days, many people adjust to night shifts, by forcing their circadian clock to re-schedule itself … but there is good evidence that even when it feels like you’re OK with working nights, you may be paying a heavy price for not listening to your internal clock!
Another example: jet lag. Often, people who travel will tell you they are extremely tired and their appetite is ‘off’ for a few days after they arrive at their destination if it’s in a different time zone than they are used to. Let’s say you are going from New York to Maui. When it’s 10:00 PM in New York State, it’s 4:00 PM in Hawaii. So, you are entering a completing different time zone which will interrupt your sleeping habits, eating habits and the way your body functions all together. That horrible, hungover, sleep-deprived, wired state is caused by the disruption in your circadian rhythm as you abruptly land in a new time zone.
And yes, it’s now certain: your dog also has a circadian clock (as do all other living organisms). This is why he tends to want to eat his food the same time every day or go outside in the morning at the same time each day.
Just like we are, our dogs are creatures of the circadian clock!
What Scientists Did to Win the Nobel Prize
The three researchers, Hall, Rosbosh and Young, found and isolated a gene in fruit flies that controlled their daily rhythm, or routine. By grabbing that particular gene and looking inside of it, they were able to find a protein in the gene that accumulates through the night. Then, throughout the day, that protein breaks down slowly, until night time, when the cycle starts over. The body makes this protein at night, and breaks it down during the day, night after day after night after day, throughout life.
They also found other ‘pieces of the puzzle’ when they pulled apart the gene and found a series of mechanisms that basically works as the body’s biological clock. This has helped us to understand that basically all biological clocks function similarly in other organisms. Plants, bugs, dogs and people all have a circadian rhythm. All of these organisms have a process they go through during the day where they are most active and least active.
The Nobel organization’s press release is an excellent read, and we highly recommend taking a look at it. It goes into more detail on what exactly the researchers found, and how they found it.
Why It’s Important
The understanding of the circadian rhythm has helped scientists improve health by making sure a medication is taken when it is most effective in the body. For example, some medications should be taken at night because that’s when it is the most effective with the least amount of side effects. Others are better taken during the day time.
Surely, there are best times of the day for every medication — but the sad fact is that at this point, we don’t know when each is best given. (Although, we do know for the most common chemo drugs.)
Hopefully this year’s Nobel Prize will spur scientists to figure out the best time for ALL medications and supplements to be given. That’s the wonderful thing about the Nobel — it inspires others to do better, more, and well. By bringing attention to this usually-overlooked, basic body function, maybe scientists will start giving better recommendations for medications. For example, maybe inserts will tell you not just how often, and how much, of a medication to take … but also, what time of day!
Dr. Dressler and the Circadian Rhythm
Dr. Dressler has talked about how important chronobiology is in his discussions about chronotherapy. Dr. D refers to chronotherapy as ‘time therapy,’ as in when the cancer drugs should be taken for the highest level of effectiveness with the fewest side effects. For example, he has found cisplatin (common chemo drug) is safest and most effective when taken at 6:00 PM.
What he means by this is, if medications are taken at certain times, they are more likely to be effectively absorbed by your dog’s body while reducing the risk of a stomach ache or other side effect associated with the medication. When we dive deeper, we have found out the circadian rhythm tells the body’s liver proteins to ‘turn on higher’ at certain times of the day. This may be part of why certain drugs are metabolized more safely at certain times of day than others.
From the beginning, Dr. Dressler has always recommended that Apocaps CX be given ‘on the 11’s,” or 11 AM and 11 PM, if possible. This is when Apocaps CX helps the most, because it’s absorbed best. And for the very rare dog that gets an upset stomach, time of day seems to work better to reduce that risk. So if your dog is on Apocaps CX, and your schedule allows, give Apocaps CX between 10 AM and noon and 10 PM and midnight.
To learn more about Dr. Dressler’s perspective on chronotherapy and the circadian rhythms involved with cancer, check out his webinar on Chronotherapy, recorded in 2011. In addition to discussing chronotherapy in depth, he takes readers’ questions throughout the webinar. These are always fascinating — we always learn from each other. You can learn more about chronotherapy, the circadian rhythm and why it’s important at the webinar, “Chronotherapy: Timing Your Dog’s Cancer Medication.”
Let’s all honor these amazing scientists, who help us to understand ourselves and our bodies, by paying more attention to our inner clocks. Next time you feel tired at the end of the day, take a moment, maybe take three deep breaths, and just FEEL that tiredness. That’s your internal clock, telling you it’s time for sleep. That you will feel better tomorrow, and work better, and live better, and be healthier, if you go to sleep soon. You’ll also be able to love your dog better, when you AND she are both on the most important schedule of all — the circadian rhythm.
Not everyone can follow their internal clocks precisely. Some people have to work nights, and others just have to be sleep-deprived for a while. But the least we can do is listen to the wisdom our bodies give us, and then do what we can to follow it. Maybe we can’t drop everything and fall asleep right when we feel like it — but we can probably put the cell phone down a little sooner, or turn off the computer or TV.
We can give our dogs dark sleeping environments, and take their requests for food, walk, and play as signals from their internal clocks.
Remember, as Dr. Dressler reminds us over and over, every little thing we do for ourselves, and for our dogs, helps. It all counts.