Is Flying Causing You to Gain Weight?

by Cheryl Ann Borne Patient Advocate


** The Link Between Jet Lag and Obesity

Once upon a time, being a flight attendant was what it was all about. Flight attendant wasn't even part of the vocabulary just yet. During the golden age of flight the attendants were called stewardesses.

As is the case in many things past, a good dose of nostalgia is responsible for the glory of those days. The fact of the matter is that plane tickets were five-times more expensive back then, and the chances of being killed were five-times greater. So much for the good old days.

Still in all, we are a people in motion. We are on the go and have an affinity for travel. Planes get us from here to there ASAP, and the challenge of distance has been compromised by quite a bit. So fill your travel bag with slogans and "fly the friendly skies" on the "world's most experienced airline" aboard "the wings of man." Catchy stuff indeed, and much better than "Our jet lag is gonna make you fat."

Unfortunately, it has been discovered that jet lag may contribute to obesity.

The Circadin Clock

The circadian clock is the twenty-four hour period during which the sleeping and eating patterns of all living things are determined. A recent study, published in the journal Cell, has found that gut microbes in both mice and humans have circadian rhythms controlled by this biological clock. Should this clock be disrupted, changes occur in the microbial population that may lead to obesity and metabolic problems.

Experiments in which usually nocturnal mice were kept awake during the day created a state equivalent of jet lag from an eight-hour time difference in human beings. The result was that microbes changed in composition and function, and lost their circadian rhythm. This caused less efficient performance for promoting cell growth and DNA repair. The mice also were more susceptible to obesity and diabetes.

When their DNA was transferred into germ-free mice, the risk for disease among this sterile bunch increased showing that microbes cause the susceptibility.

Frequent Flyers Might be at Risk for Obesity

In order to test this discovery on humans, researcher Eran Elinav, MD PhD studied two people traveling from the United States to Israel, a circumstance that produced an eight hour jet lag similar to the mice. When the microbes of the two individuals were tested it was found that the composition of their microbes had changed in ways that were very similar to the mice. When the microbes from the two subjects were then transferred to mice, the point where the jet lag peaked promoted greater obesity and glucose intolerance.

The gut microbes in the humans returned to normal two weeks after the flight and when transferred to mice there was no longer increased obesity and glucose intolerance. These findings suggest that frequent flyers may not be able to give their bodies ample time for a return to normal function and could run an increased risk for diabetes and obesity.

Shift workers may also be at risk because their work demands constantly disrupt circadian rhythms.

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Cheryl Ann Borne
Meet Our Writer
Cheryl Ann Borne

Cheryl Ann Borne, writing as My Bariatric Life, is a contributing writer and Paleo recipe developer. Cheryl is an award-winning healthcare communications professional and obesity health advocate who has overcome super obesity and it’s related diseases. She publishes the website, and microblogs on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Cheryl is also writing her first book and working on a second website.