Discover your body’s internal clock

In a major step forward, University of North Carolina researchers have discovered what controls our body’s internal clock. The discovery gives researchers new ideas for the treatments of many disorders, including seasonal affective disorder.

According to a recent discovery, light doesn’t just let Jennifer Coulombe see. It’s also keeps her energized!

How do we know? University of North Carolina researcher Aziz Sancar, Ph.D., has discovered a light-absorbing chemical in our retinas called cryptochrome. It bonds with vitamin B-2 to control our internal circadian clock.

“If you don’t have enough of this pigment, you cannot synchronize your circadian clock with the light-dark cycle,” says Dr. Sancar. Out-of-whack body clocks can disrupt sleep, hormones, blood pressure and thought processes.

Nothing new to Jennifer. She has a common winter depression called seasonal affective disorder. “I was really tired, and normally I have a lot of energy. I was sleeping really late, and normally I’m an early riser,” she says.

Doctors like psychiatrist Michael Hill, M.D., have known for years that bright-light treatments help the condition. Jennifer says, “It really put me back to my old self again.” They just haven’t known why.

Cryptochrome explains it and suggests new treatments. One idea is to eat food with vitamin B-2 — cryptochrome’s partner. It’s found in whole grains. “That’s a new and exciting thing to think about, whether vitamin B-2 may have something to do with this disorder. Time will tell,” says Dr. Hill.

Until then, between dark commutes and a wimpy winter sun, Jennifer’s got her light box. “Oh you couldn’t take my light from me for anything,” she says. Next year, she may just be eating more whole grain instead.

Dr. Sancar says that the discovery of cryptochrome may also help in cancer treatment because the effects of some anti-cancer drugs depend on what time of day they are taken.

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