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Millions can be saved from work hazards by light therapy: better than sleeping pills and drugs that usually worsen the condition.

The use of a sunlight simulator can spare millions of people from the discomfort and tragedies of disrupted sleep-wake patterns.

More than 7 million workers in the nation take on night shift work every few weeks and become prone to accidents because of circadian rhythm distortion. Also involved are at least 60 million travelers who travel through time zones and become afflicted by jet lag that hangs on for many days, affecting work and health.

Better than sleeping pills, drugs that usually worsen the condition, bright light therapy has entered the armory of devices that can fight the problems caused by upsetting the body's timing.

Just about twenty years ago, researchers discovered an "inner clock" that ticks away in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a small organ sequestered in the hypothalamus located in a region in the front part of the brain. Many functions are affected, including regulation of the automatic nervous system, the heart and the abdominal organs, especially in response to emotions, mood, excitement, depression and other influences.

The hypothalamus regulates body temperature, appetite and thirst. It monitors the flow of blood through muscles during exercise and controls blood pressure. The hypothalamus also controls the pituitary gland, which in turn affects the output of other endocrine glands and the kidneys.

Its influence on the ebb and flow of vital organs is integral to the body's clock-like functioning.

Physicians should be alert when performing plasma cortisol blood tests in Addison's disease patients (who have adrenal hypofunction) or Cushing's disease patients (who also have adrenal hyperfunction) because the time of day when administered can be significant.

If the normal maximum levels of cortisol seen during the morning are maintained through 24 hours, a patient may have Cushing's disease. An Addison's disease patient might show low cortisol levels typical of evening throughout day and night. A patient's particular circadian rhythm patterns should therefore be taken into account for diagnostic criteria.
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Title Annotation:The Tyranny of Time: Solving the Mystery of Our Inner Clockwork
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Inner body clocks: understanding the science of chronobiology.
Next Article:Living in perpetual twilight.

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