Our diet affects hormones and the internal clock

Our diet affects hormones and the internal clock

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New nutritional influences discovered

Diet has a significant impact on our mental and physical health. However, the influence could be even greater than previously thought. German scientists were able to prove for the first time with a study that nutrition has more extensive functions than the mere absorption of nutrients. According to the current study, our hormone release and internal clock are also influenced by food intake.

Researchers from the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) discovered previously unknown functions of nutrition. They showed that the type of food or fasting episodes affected both hormone levels and the switch between rest and activity within the 24 hour cycle. The scientists presented their results in the renowned journal “Cell”.

What is the internal clock?

Every single cell in the human body is tuned to the so-called circadian rhythm - a kind of internal clock that is timed to the 24-hour daily routine and follows the natural sequence of day and night. The circadian rhythm is influenced by sunlight and social habits. According to the study team, a healthy person produces stress hormones every morning. These glucocorticoids cause the body to use fatty acids and sugar as energy sources to start the day full of energy.

If there are disturbances in the circadian rhythm, for example as a result of illness, night shifts or jet lag, the glucocorticoid level changes. Such a disorder can lead to severe metabolic dysregulation and can, for example, promote diseases such as obesity, fatty liver, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.

What are glucocorticoids?

Glucocorticoids are a group of steroid hormones. The stress hormone cortisol also belongs to this group. Glucocorticoids are important hormones that trigger metabolic processes in the body in order to regulate the energy balance and provide energy sources. But they also have anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties that affect the activity of the immune system.

Course of the study

In order to better understand the importance of daily release of stress hormones, the research team examined the time-dependent metabolic cycle in mice. They checked the influence of nutrition. Using the latest technology, the researchers analyzed the liver of the mice every four hours. They were able to show when and where glucocorticoid receptors exert their metabolic effects. The team analyzed the 24-hour cycle of liver metabolism and the associated fluctuations in glucocorticoid release. The mice were either fed normal or high-fat food or went through short fasting periods.

What was observed

It was shown, among other things, that glucocorticoid release is regulated differently during fasting periods and when eating. The control takes place via a time-dependent binding of the hormones to the genome. According to the researchers, this is proof that the majority of rhythmic gene activities are controlled by these hormones. This is also an explanation of how the liver controls the level of sugar and fat in the blood differently during the day and night. In mice with a disturbed circadian rhythm, there was also a change in blood sugar and fat levels.

Diet changes the response to hormones

In further tests, the researchers examined how the mice reacted to the injected active substance dexamethasone (synthetic glucocorticoid). It was shown that mice that were overweight due to their high-fat diet reacted differently to the active ingredient than slim mice. "This was the first time that we were able to show that diet can change the hormonal and medicinal reactions of the metabolism," explains Dr. Fabiana Quagliarini from the research team. Since dexamethasone is often used in immunotherapy, it must be considered whether overweight people need other therapies than slim people.

Chronomedicine is becoming increasingly important

"If we understand how glucocorticoids control the 24-hour cycles of gene activity in the liver and thus the sugar and fat levels in the blood, we will gain new insights into" chronomedicine "and the development of metabolic diseases," adds Professor Henriette Uhlenhaut. The research group was able for the first time to show a new connection between lifestyle, hormones and physiology at the molecular level. This suggests that obese people and people of normal weight may react differently to daily hormone secretions or to glucocorticoid preparations. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Helmholtz Zentrum München: Diet can influence the body clock and hormonal reactions (accessed: November 7th, 2019),
  • Fabiana Quagliarini, Ashfaq Ali Mir, Kinga Balazs, u.a .: Cistromic Reprogramming of the Diurnal Glucocorticoid Hormone Response by High-Fat Diet, Molecular Cell, 2019,

Video: Your Hormones and You (June 2022).


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