THE CIRCADIAN PRESCRIPTION*
For alertness and daytime activities our bodies need protein, properly broken down into appropriate amino acids. On the other hand, for energy during sleep in order to repair our tissues and to detoxify and eliminate the wastes from our metabolism, we do need some carbohydrate. NOHA Honorary Member Sidney M. Baker, MD, explains that usually in our culture people eat concentrated starches and sugars (carbohydrates) for breakfast and lunch, saving their main consumption of protein for dinner in the evening. These daily actions result in timing that is exactly opposite to our requirements for excellent functioning and health.
In The Circadian Prescription * Dr. Baker explains vividly that although each person is an individual and different from everybody else, we are all subject to the rhythms of nature. We all live on the same planet! Over the millennia life has developed within the daily cycle of light in the daytime and darkness at night. Also, in northern climates, we have the seasonal cycles with longer days in the summer and much darkness and cold in the winter. In the daytime our ancestors would hunt eagerly for fish and game plus some plants to give themselves the nourishment for excellent physique and development. They got the long-chain essential fatty acids, especially from seafood, so that our wonderful human brains could develop. (See NOHA NEWS, Fall 1991, "Food, the Driving Force of Evolution"). The excellent protein in the diets of our paleolithic ancestors allowed them to grow tall in contrast to the shorter stature from the relative lack of protein when people had to resort to agriculture. (See NOHA NEWS, Fall 1986, "The Fish and Game Diet," with reference to "Paleolithic Nutrition, A Consideration of Its Nature and Current Implications.")
In describing our ancient ancestors and how they searched and found a wonderful variety of food, Dr. Baker points out that, once in a while and also only at certain seasons, one of them would find fruit and eat it and probably give some to the family. Then, this fine source of carbohydrate would be extra. If their bodies could produce enough insulin, which is needed to turn carbohydrate into fat, they would all have that extra fat and a better chance of surviving, when at some other season, food could not be found. Thus, this ability to increase one’s insulin and store fat gave our ancestors an excellent evolutionary advantage when food was sometimes scarce and they needed storage fat in their bodies. However, in our present situation we can eat sugar and starch day and night and we are endlessly turning the carbohydrate into fat, which we don’t need and which makes a dangerously large number of us obese and subject to many of the chronic, devastating diseases of the western world.
In addition to disrupting our seasonal cycle by eating the fruits of autumn and turning them into storage fats all year round, we have also, by the use of artificial lighting, often completely eliminated the nighttime darkness, which our ancestors experienced and to which our bodies are attuned. Dr. Baker explains that our bodies do have many circadian rhythms: waves that repeat almost exactly over each day and night.
In his chapter "Life Is Rhythm," he cites 24-hour fluctuations in bodily temperature, levels of certain hormones, occurrence of accidents, and even ability to detoxify alcohol.
Melatonin is a vital hormone, which helps with sleep and which has been proposed to have anti-cancer effects. Its production from the pineal gland peaks in the middle of the night and this peak production can be eliminated if we are exposed to ANY light. "Failure to have a peak release of melatonin at night is like missing a bus that comes only once a day."
In his chapter "Protein: the Basis of Consciousness," Dr. Baker points out that "protein provides the platform for the daytime chemistry of consciousness and action." In the morning we have higher levels of the hormones, like adrenaline, cortisone, and thyroid, which are "needed for alertness and activity." Protein eaten then, at the appropriate time when we awaken in the morning, is absolutely essential to supply the amino acids that we convert into the neurotransmitters needed for high level mental functioning. If the protein is not eaten we can feel mental fog and lassitude. Dr. Baker has worked for the Peace Corps in Africa. He points out that carbohydrates are NOT essential to life but proteins ARE:
If no carbohydrate or fat is available, protein can be burned for energy. However, it burns "dirty." Protein molecules are very complicated, consisting of twenty different amino acids in an amazing number of sizes and shapes. It is estimated that one’s body contains thirty-thousand distinct
proteins and they are different from each other for every organism. When proteins are broken down for fuel, toxic substances result, which the body has to carefully package in order to excrete them without injury. On the other hand, carbohydrates are made up of small sugar molecules joined end to end and make an easily used fuel for our bodies. Thus, protein is absolutely necessary for tissue repair and our vast number of bodily functions—including clear thinking and strong action. However, if we consume more than we need and no carbohydrate, the burning of our protein tissues for energy is counterproductive. Thus, Dr. Baker does not recommend a diet that is pure protein and fat, although in the short run it can, of course, result in some spectacular loss of ugly storage fat. He asks for moderation. In the circadian diet, the most important points concern the timing of meals—be sure that lots of protein is included in your breakfast and lunch and save most of the carbohydrates for the evening.
He points out that carbohydrates are needed at night for the tremendous amount of activity—repair and waste disposal, which takes place when we are asleep.
Like proteins certain fats are essential in that they are necessary for life. Our bodies can manufacture some fats, e.g., the saturated storage fat from carbohydrates. However, there are two families of fats that we can only obtain from our food—omega 3s and omega 6s. (For a discussion, description, and food sources, see NOHA NEWS, Fall 1991, "Stalking the Essential Fatty Acids.")
These fats are absolutely essential. They are the precursors of prostaglandins, amazing hormones that communicate cell to cell within our bodies. These fats are also needed for properly flexible membranes around and inside all our cells. At present we tend to have low levels of essential fats, especially the omega-3s, which are the most fragile and usually destroyed for convenience in any processed foods, whose original ingredients contained them. The omega-3s give us the anti-inflammatory protaglandins and can help with all our systems. (See, for example, Omega 3 Oils: To Improve Mental Health, Fight Degenerative Diseases, and Extend Your Life by Donald Rudin, MD, and Clara Felix, Avery, 1996; also, the NOHA Audio and Video tape: Artemis Simopoilos, MD, "The Omega Plan," #169, 19/98.) Dr. Baker gives numerous dramatic examples of patients, who were helped in many ways by adding the omega-3s to their diet in the form of flax seed oil and/or sometimes cod liver oil. He himself immediately recognizes omega-3 deficiencies when he notices problems with hair, skin, and nails.
Our intestinal flora need to be healthy. Even one course of antibiotics can disrupt the trillions of healthy germs, which we need in our gut. Dr. Baker points out that our intestinal flora can perform intricate chemistry, which we cannot—for example, producing some vitamins and converting certain nutrients into protective substances.
Dr. Baker explains to us that food provides information to our bodies. The plants, which give us carbohydrates, also contain many other nutrients (called phytonutrients), which are often the beautiful colors that sometimes were developed to protect the plant from too much sun , or, on the other hand, wonderful chemicals like the green chlorophyll, which allows plants to capture the sun’s energy for all living organisms on earth.
Phytonutrients can signal seasons. Our ancestors had to eat food in season, perhaps it would be best if we did also. Phytonutrients can have effects that are as powerful as drugs. Dr. Baker gives many examples. He concentrates on three because, if we lined up all the special nutrients, which have been shown to be helpful, we would have no idea where to begin in choosing a few to eat each day. The three that he emphasizes are soy protein, flaxseed, and rye. The phytonutrients, specifically the isoflavones and lignans in all three, can help greatly with so-called "hormone problems." Since rye is mostly carbohydrate (and can be enjoyed in the evening), he concentrates on soy protein isolate and ground flaxseed as the basis for his "circadian diet." Soy protein isolate contains more than twice the isoflavones (genistein and daidzein) contained in regular soy protein powder and more than five times as much as found in tofu. There is even less in soy milk. Fermented soy products have been broken down by organisms outside our bodies so that we can digest them. On the other hand, soy protein isolate needs to be broken down by our own friendly gut germs for us to reap its benefits.
Research has shown that adults can benefit from the isoflavones in soy. However, for infants who cannot be nursed and who are allergic to cow’s milk, Dr. Baker points out that the hormone-like substances in soy—even the low amounts in soy milk—may cause problems. "Infants fed soy formula have been shown to have isoflavone plasma concentrations up to twenty thousand times higher than the hormone (estradiol) levels normally found in early life." He is concerned.
Dr. Baker wants to make having more protein at breakfast and lunch easy to do, so, he has a recipe for a basic shake to be made in a blender. It consists of milk and yogurt (with live bacteria for the gut), soy protein isolate, and ground flaxseed, plus a quarter cup of blueberries. (Editor’s note: it is delicious and easy to make.) One patient said it tastes like ice cream. On the other hand, one autistic child would not touch it. However, his father figured out how to get the same nutrients into a popsicle, which was happily consumed.
Dr. Baker points out that some people are sensitive to milk and some to soy, so, he suggests a rice milk shake with rice protein. To increase phytonutrients, he suggests using a green food concentrate and he does write that it is best to eat a varied diet—shades of Dr. Randolph and the Rotation Diet!
A question we must ask: These shakes do contain processed protein—so they would contain free glutamic acid. What about MSG-sensitive people?
Dr. Baker has many interesting suggestions about the best times to take supplements and about the effect of drugs on our circadian rhythm, for example, increasing doses of sleeping pills, like phenobarbitol, can lead to "the complete disorganization of the circadian rhythm.." He has suggestions for helping people who change work shifts and also those who travel through time zones.
His attitude to children is delightful. He tries to treat them as intelligent beings. As a minister’s younger son, he was much exposed to adults who would hardly ever actually talk to him, as a person. Remembering his experiences, he likes to relate directly to children. He tries to make the change to the circadian diet easy for people of all ages and all cultures. He has this paragraph at the end of his chapter on children:
*Baker, Sidney MacDonald, MD, with Karen Baar, MPH, The Circadian Prescription: Get in step with your body’s natural rhythms to maximize energy, vitality, and longevity, New York, Perigree, 2001.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, Fall 2002, pages 6-8.