Gut Microbes Tied to Jet Lag, Shift-Work Weight Gain

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THURSDAY, Oct. 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Disruptions in the human circadian clock can throw off microbes in the gut, potentially boosting the risk of obesity, a new study suggests.

The results may help explain why shift workers and people who get jet lag by traveling frequently often pack on extra pounds.

"These surprising findings may enable us to devise preventive treatments for these people to lower their risk for these complications," senior study author Eran Elinav, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, said in a news release from the journal Cell.

In the new research, Elinav and colleagues analyzed the microbes in the feces of humans and mice, and discovered that gut microbes follow a rhythmic pattern throughout the day. The cycle depends on eating habits and the circadian cycle of the human or mouse.

The microbes were disrupted when the mice were exposed to an abnormal eating schedule and changes in their exposure to light and dark, the study found. In two people who suffered from jet lag, certain types of bacteria became more common. The germs are linked to obesity and problems in the body's metabolic system, according to the researchers.

"Our findings highlight a new therapeutic target that may be exploited in future studies to normalize the microbiota in those people whose lifestyle involves frequent alterations in sleep patterns, such as shift workers and very frequent fliers," Elinav said.

"Targeting the harmful changes in the microbiota in these large human populations with probiotic or antimicrobial therapies may reduce or even prevent their risk of developing obesity and its complications," he added.

The study appears in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Cell.

More information

For more about jet lag, try the National Sleep Foundation.