Study Links Saturated Fats with Altered Circadian Cycles and Metabolic Disorders


texasaampmstA new study explains why some saturated fats are ‘bad’ – and suggests that the problem may be in the timing. The research from Texas A&M links consumption of saturated fats – and specifically palmitate – to the disruption of internal circadian cycles, leading to chronic inflammation and triggering the onset of metabolic disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, strokes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Circadian clocks, which exist in cells throughout the body, regulate the local timing of important cellular processes necessary for normal functioning and help keep inflammatory responses in check.

“When you disrupt that timing, the 24-hour organization, there are consequences, and this is a contributing factor in many human health disorders, especially metabolic disease,” said David Earnest, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics.

In the short term, inflammation is considered to be protective response to injury or invading bacteria, but the chronic, low-grade inflammation caused by high fat diets contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes and other inflammation-related disorders.

Earnest and his team have now shown that consumption of saturated fats at certain times may cause a type of cellular “jet lag” that upsets internal clocks and results in inflammation.

Earnest’s previous work suggested that a high-fat diet alters how our body clocks keep time, particularly in immune cells that control inflammation. Earlier findings have shown that a high fat diet slows down the internal time clocks in immune cells so that they can no longer “tell” accurate time. Now Earnest and his team have shown that one type of fat in particular — a saturated fatty acid called palmitate — is the main culprit responsible for compromising the accuracy of the body clocks.

Essentially, palmitate causes a form of  “jet lag” that affects cells so that some are reset to different “time zones.” Humans can manage when they move into different time zones, but inflammation seems to occur when some cells are shifted but others are not. 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., and your wristwatch was showing 2:30 p.m. You might not know which one is correct, just as your body gets confused when its various types of cells are reflecting different “clocks.”

Unfortunately, palmitate (also called palmitic acid) is one of the most commonly consumed long chain saturated fats in the Western diet.

“Chronic inflammation is determined by what saturated fats you have in your diet and when you eat them,” Earnest said. The report predicts that the best time to eat a high-fat meal is early in the morning, and probably the worst time is late at night. So, it’s not just what you eat, but also when you eat it.

Earnest’s new study, recently published in the journal EBioMedicine, also shows that specific polyunsaturated “good” fats and other anti-inflammatory drugs had protective effects at times when saturated fats cause maximal inflammation and the resetting of body clocks.

“Not all fats are bad for you,” Earnest said. “We wanted to look specifically comparing palmitate with DHA, which is a common polyunsaturated omega 3.” Consistent with previous findings showing that DHA is anti-inflammatory, the new results indicated that disrupting the inflammatory response with this omega 3 also blocked the resetting of body clocks to the wrong time. Thus, Earnest believes that chronotherapeutic strategies using omega 3 fatty acids or other anti-inflammatory treatments may be effective in preventing these local time changes in our body clocks caused by saturated fats.

“Our findings suggest that we may be able to control the inflammatory response locally in specific tissues, maximizing the inflammation with timed palmitate treatment to help the body respond to infection or injury,” Earnest said. “We could then deliver appropriate treatments at specific times to block the chronic phase and potentially manage inflammation-related diseases.”

Source: Texas A&M

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