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Jet Lag Could Lead to Weight Gain

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Ever noticed how jet lag makes you as hungry as it does tired? Now science has an explanation for that third pain au chocolat that's now just crumbs on your room service tray. All that traveling is ticking off the bacteria in your gut. New research has found that your microbiome—the collection of bugs that live in your body and help you with everything from digestion to mood—thrives on a schedule so when you mess up your circadian rhythm, you also mess up your gut flora. When your bacteria isn't happy, nobody is happy. And also, your pants don't fit. 

"These findings provide an explanation for a long-standing and mysterious observation, namely that people with chronically disturbed day-night cycles due to repetitive jet lag or shift work have a tendency to develop obesity and other metabolic complications," says Eran Elinav, M.D., Ph.D., of the Weizmann Institute of Science and lead author of the study.

Elinav hopes that this discovery will lead to future treatments, whether behavioral or medical, that can help people with crazy schedules stay healthy by ensuring the health of their microbiome. In the meantime, there are some tried-and-true steps you can take to ameliorate the effects of jet lag, a swing shift, or even a weekend of partying all night (not that us grown-ups ever do that, ahem). 

1. Keep it simple. The most important thing you can to do take care of yourself is to stick to as simple a regimen as possible, according to Ruth Sorotzkin, M.D., an internist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. "If it doesn't have to be done then don't do it," she says. This means holding off on big meetings, skipping the booze and sugar, and avoiding eating large, heavy meals until your body has had time to adjust to the new time zone, Sorotzkin says, adding that that time frame will be different for each person. "It's really important to be in tune with how your body responds. Some people just do better with sleep deprivation than others do." 

2. Water, water, water. Stay extra hydrated on the plane by drinking plenty of water; eat small, light, and frequent meals to keep your digestive system moving but not overwhelmed; and take short naps. Flu shots are also helpful this time of year.

RELATED: 9 Low-Carb Snacks to Eat on the Go

3. Exercise can be your magic bullet. Being prepared for your travel by having a regular exercise routine is important but so is staying with it even when you travel, Sorotzkin says. "As soon as you land try and take a walk outside in the fresh air and where you can see the light and feel the sun," she says as ordinary sunlight is one of the most powerful tools we have for re-setting our internal clocks. 

4. Consider a probiotic supplement. It will help fortify your immune system and taking them during your trip can be a good protection against Traveler's Tummy. There needs to be more research to back up this new connection between weight and jet lag, but in the meantime taking a quality supplement can't hurt and will likely help.

Now, if only the researchers can come up with a pill to cure the guy snoring in the seat next to you!

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