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The body's biological clock: alcohol may lead to physiological anarchy

Circadian rhythms refer to biological phenomena that oscillate within a 24-hour cycle, in keeping with the earth's rotation. A review in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research summarizes new findings on interactions between alcohol and the "clock genes" that underlie circadian rhythmicity.

"The human body, like many other mammals and some bacteria, displays changes in functions and behavior that wax and wane through the cycle of day and night," said Dipak K. Sarkar, director of the endocrinology program and biomedical division of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, and corresponding author for the study. "These rhythms are not simply a response to 24-hour changes in the physical environment but instead arise from a timekeeping system or 'biological clock' within the body. An individual has more than 100 circadian rhythms that are unique and influence various aspects of body functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels, pain threshold and even the ability to fight against harmful invaders like bacteria and virus. Almost no area of our body is unaffected by these rhythms."

"This review shows that alcohol exposure can alter biological rhythmicity and, as a result, have deleterious consequences on a number of important physiological systems," noted Robert J. Handa, professor of neuroscience at Colorado State University. "The fact that alcohol intake may influence the molecular underpinnings of circadian rhythmicity is an emerging concept with potentially important biomedical ramifications. Although a majority of these studies have been performed in rodent models observations of humans correlate with the animal studies and imply that similar types of pathology are associated with alcohol intake."

Some of the review's key findings were:

  • The chronobiological disruptions observed in human alcoholics appear to be partially due to alcohol-induce
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  • 14-Aug-2005


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