Skip to Main Content

High-fat diet disrupts ‘body clock,’ leading to obesity and diabetes


Illustration: Division of Research

It’s all in the timing, according to researchers at Texas A&M who have confirmed disruption of the internal biological clock plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes. Their study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, suggests a high-fat diet alters the timing of our body clock, particularly in immune cells that are involved in mediating inflammation in obesity.

Our “body clock” is located in virtually all cells and controls circadian rhythms, 24-hour cycles that tell our bodies when to sleep and regulate many physiological processes, including inflammation and metabolism. When our circadian rhythms are disrupted, sleeping patterns and metabolism become unbalanced, notes study authors David Earnest, professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics and Chaodong Wu, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

With combined interests in sleep cycles and nutrition, the duo has jointly explored effects of unhealthy eating on circadian rhythms for a number of years. 

“Under normal conditions, circadian clocks help maintain the anti-inflammatory function of immune cells and keep metabolism functioning properly,” said Earnest. “With a high-fat diet, the circadian clock is dysregulated, which intensifies inflammation and fat deposition and leads to systemic insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.”