Western medicine prides itself on the ability to diagnose and treat a variety of maladies that a very short time ago were considered fatal. Part and parcel of the extension of treatments is the idea of specialization.
We’ve become accustomed to specialty medicine. It seems to make sense: someone gaining expertise and mastery over one specific body part, the sum of those parts equaling your aunt Betty.
But what if the template for modern medicine, this very concept of the human body, was fundamentally flawed? What if your body is not a tally of parts but one giant complex system with many subsystems operating in tandem?
Perhaps you can see where this is going. Scientists are beginning to discover that the body is governed by not just the brain in our heads, but multiple auxiliary sub-brains, located in other organs, connected by neurons, and all carefully timed to operate with each other.
The analogy might be a symphony, where musicians must listen to each other to blend into one unified sound. If the entire percussion section keels over in the middle of a performance, you don’t just lose that piece of the song, like deleting an audio track. The entire group is affected.
The conductor in our scenario might be your circadian clock. Scientists have discovered chemical and neural driven sub clocks within your organs that coordinate with the circadian clock and in turn synchronize with each other. It’s the same way one orchestra section will be both in tune with, and reliant upon, other sections for playing cues.
In a recent Scientific American article, “The Clocks Within Us”, authors Keith Summa and Fred Turek write, “Genes in the liver, pancreas, and other tissues [not just the brain] keep the various parts of the body in sync. Timing miscues may lead to diabetes, depression, and other illnesses.”
Missing out on your proper sleep cycle, and thus ignoring the circadian clock’s cues of light and dark, is akin to the orchestra conductor not showing up for work.
An erratic sleep schedule doesn’t just leave you dozing off into your coffee. Critical neurons are designed to operate pre-dawn to prepare your heart for the rigors of the day. Throwing off their operations is bad news for your heart. It’s theorized this is why so many heart attacks occur in the early morning.
Additionally, when the adipose layers of the body—the fat storage system—get off their natural circadian rhythm, they can release fatty molecules at the wrong time of the day. This plays havoc with your metabolism and causes you to gain weight. Your pancreas relies on the same clock system to release insulin; if that routine is repeatedly disrupted, the result can be diabetes.
If you’ve ever heard an orchestra tuning up before a concert, you begin to appreciate just how important the conductor really is to keep everyone on the same page and the same beat. But even the greatest musical ensembles have nothing on the human body. Trying to keep it in tune begins with the sun, ends with darkness, and relies on a whole interconnected collection of biological clocks ticking forward every moment without gears or batteries.
The human system is turning out to be far more complicated than we ever imagined. In the end, much like love, real estate, and yes, music, it’s all about the timing.