David Earnest

Blocking inflammatory signals may prevent saturated fats from ‘jet lagging’ the body clock

Proinflammatory signals resulting from the consumption of saturated fatty acids like palmitate slow down internal circadian clocks so that they no longer 'keep' accurate time
July 1, 2019

Circadian clocks in cells throughout the body regulate the local 24-hour timing of important cellular processes necessary for normal functioning and help keep inflammatory responses in check. Eating foods with saturated fats—especially at certain times of the day—may “jet lag” internal clocks, resulting in inflammation that contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

David Earnest, PhD, professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, led the study, which was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. It is a continuation of Earnest’s earlier studies that found saturated fats—specifically palmitate, one of the most commonly consumed long chain saturated fats in the Western diet—“jet lag” cells in your body so that some are reset to different “time zones.” Earnest compares this phenomenon to the confusion that would develop if the wall clock in your office was set to 2 p.m., the one on your computer indicated 4 p.m., your wristwatch was showing 2:30 p.m. and all while the clock on your cellphone reflected the accurate time of 1 p.m. CST. As a result, you might not know which one is correct, just as your body is similarly confused when “clocks” in various cells are set to different times of the day or night.

“These studies established that saturated fats reset our body clocks to the wrong time, so next we wanted to determine what signals are responsible for their disruptive effects on internal timekeeping,” Earnest said. “When you can’t provide any sort of advice on how to prevent this process—other than just saying don’t eat high-fat foods at night, which is easier said than done—it’s not terribly helpful. Once these key signals are identified, then you can potentially develop chronotherapeutic strategies to prevent these local time changes in our body clocks and the corresponding inflammation caused by saturated fats.”

Earnest’s research found that administration of several proinflammatory cytokines “jet-lagged” our body clocks in the same fashion as the saturated fat palmitate. Conversely, if these cytokines with drugs similar to those used in the treatment of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are blocked, palmitate no longer resets the clock to a different time.

“These findings are especially exciting in suggesting that proinflammatory cytokines are indeed the key signals that trigger palmitate-induced ‘jet lag’ and inflammation,” Earnest said. “We hope that our findings lay the groundwork for new strategies using anti-inflammatory drugs at critical times to prevent local time changes in our body clocks and manage inflammation-related diseases associated with high-fat diets.”

— Christina Sumners

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