We are circadian beings, which means our ability to survive and thrive as a species depends on our connection to the rhythms of nature.
We now know from the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribe, the Hunza, that our gut microbes are designed to change from one season to the next. We know that microbes in the soil change seasonally and they have interdependent relationships with plants and microbes in our guts.
We also know that carbohydrate-digesting microbes (Bacteroidetes) flourish in summer, when more complex carbohydrates are harvested, and fat-eating microbes (Actinobacteria) flourish in winter, when a higher fat, higher protein diet is available. Clearly, science points us in the direction of seasonal eating and routines as a primary tool to stay in circadian rhythm.
Emerging studies find that digestive efficiency, in particular digestive enzymes, change with seasons. Both starch-digesting amylase and the digestion-promoting parasympathetic nervous system increases as temperatures cool in the autumn and winter.
Because of the autumn harvest of starches and grains, it makes more sense that we produce more amylase. Ayurveda says that digestive strength is stronger during winter months, which would be needed to break down heavy and dense foods, such as nuts, tubers and meats.
It also makes sense that the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system increases during colder months, when we need warmth and a stronger digestive fire.
Another difference is that receptors for neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and brain derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF) are more receptive in the light-filled summer months and much less receptive in the darker, winter months. Which is also why we encounter more mood-related concerns and depression during winter.
Nature’s biohack for this is to harvest roots in the autumn to boost BDNF, serotonin and dopamine receptor activity with herbs such as ashwagandha, bacopa and turmeric, as well as foods such as fish oils.
Studies in both animals and human beings have both shown increased microbial diversity in the gut during winter and spring, with much less in summer and autumn. Opportunistic harmful bacteria also increase in winter and spring, so we need our immune strength most here. Greater microbial diversity has been associated with greater health and immunity, which is much needed during cold winter and wet spring.
Melatonin levels surge in winter, when daylight is less. This acts as a natural birth control agent for mammals. Conceiving in winter would render the baby premature to handle the cold the next winter. Melatonin is also the body’s most powerful immune-boosting, detox, and repair molecule, all of which we need more during darker, winter months.
The loss of circadian rhythms alters our microbiome with disturbed function of gut bacteria, most notably, masking normal feeding signals, placing us at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. According to Ayurveda, living in sync with natural circadian rhythms is key to health and longevity. Whereas the stress of living against these natural cycles is a fundamental violation of healthy living. We are healthier with we live in accord with the normal exposure to light-dark cycles of day and night, and seasonal cycles, which does not disturb our circadian clocks. Living in sync with nature’s cycles is a powerful lifestyle tool to de-stress the body and mind and begin to enjoy life.
Here is a start for what you can do towards harmonious circadian living and eating with the seasons, as nature intended.
• Eat whole, organic, non-GMO, unprocessed seasonal food. Eat local and organic foods (look for foods that are grown less than 100miles away), and focus on foods that balance that particular season.
Processed foods dump excess sugar into the blood stream that cannot be used right away and that is eventually stored as fat. The more processed a food, the more easily it is digested and the more rapidly sugars and fats are deposited into the blood stream – a process directly liked with obesity. We just have to feed the brain whole foods for a while and our desires and cravings for junk food will naturally dissipate.
Whole grains boost the body’s metabolism for the body to digest them, yet a significant amount of calories are not digested and pass out of the body through the faeces. Research has calculated that both of these factors add up to about 100 fewer calories per day being digested and being stored as fat or unused fuel. That one meals adds up to almost 7 pounds of weight loss per year.
• Eat more plants. You will gain more daily energy, experience less joint pain, have lower grocery bills and feel just lighter in general. You are also supporting a more sustainable food industry which helps the environment.
• Eat mindfully, and relax when you eat.
• Introduce changes in your diet slowly. Sudden changes in the diet can disrupt the elegant moulding of the rumen (layering of the stomach) community and its environment. If a deer is fed corn or leafy greens in the middle of winter, its rumen will be knocked off balance, acidity will rise uncontrollably, and gases will bloat the rumen. Indigestion of this kind can be lethal.
• Get to be early. Remember, early to bed, early to rise = healthy, wealthy and wise.
• Follow the Ayurvedic daily and seasonal clock.