By John Salak –
Jet lag is a big draining drag. Traveling quickly across multiple time zones can sap your strength, fool with your various bodily functions and alter your mood for the worse.
These and other problems occur because long distance jet travel screws up a body’s internal clock, otherwise known as circadian rhythms, which signals when to stay awake and when to sleep.
The good news is that the problems usually only last a few days at most, according to the Mayo Clinic. Of course, the farther the trip, the more severe and extended the problems, which the clinic reports can include loss of sleep, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood changes, a general feeling of malaise and, oh yes, stomach problems, constipation and diarrhea.
Some would say it could be worse considering the reward might be arriving at some exotic destination. Well, research out of universities in Virginia and Argentina just released a study that suggests jet lag have some even more troubling consequences.
The universities report that chronic jet lag alters the microenvironment surrounding tumor cells, making them easier for these cancerous cells to grow. If that’s not enough, ongoing jet lag undermines the body’s natural immune defenses.
The research conducted jointly by Virginia Tech University and the National University of Quilmes in Argentina was focused on two groups of mice with tumors and found that the group that had their normal circadian rhythms disrupted saw their tumors grow at three times the rate as those mice that experienced normal sleep patterns.
“A key takeaway from this study is that if someone has a proliferative disorder, in this case melanoma, doing shift work or regularly changing time zones could exacerbate the problem by dampening immune system response to tumor growth,” said Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor at Virginia Tech. “This research also helps explain why some tumors win the race when a person is exposed to the chronically stressful conditions that occur when the environment and the body’s clocks are misaligned.”
The other disturbing takeaway from the research is that natural healthy rhythms of those not already impacted by the tumorous cells were also thrown out of whack. The researchers were quick to point out that the tumors in mice experiencing disrupted sleep patterns didn’t spread to neighboring organs, but these mice did experience a “deregulation” of their immune systems in organs likes the liver and spleen.
“We combined two different approaches of chronobiology research to study the effects of circadian desynchronization on both tumor growth and immune rhythms, and we found a link,” reported Diego Golombek, a professor at the Argentinian university.
Optimal rhythms in immune cells are essential to help battle against rapid tumor growth, he explained. “When circadian rhythms are chronically disrupted, these rhythms are impaired, inverted or disappear entirely,” he added.
Golombek and Finkielstein noted that additional research is needed to get a more complete picture of the impact of jet lag on humans. The potential threat they’ve identified is, nonetheless, a wake-up call for frequent fliers.