(and heart problems and much more besides!)
- The surprising thing the zebrafish can tell us about human health
- A breakthrough for insomnia – this gene could be the culprit!
- Revealed – A natural way to get a good night’s sleep…
This stripy fish is amazing.
It might look like your average tropical fish tank-dweller…. pretty to look at, swims about a bit, opening and closing its mouth… the usual.
(Apologies to any tropical fish aficionados!)
But would it surprise you to know that this fish shares 70% of its genetic information with HUMANS?
Yep, amazingly we’re genetic likenesses!
This is why scientists have been using the zebrafish to try and solve many of the problems we experience as humans, including heart disease and insomnia.
So if you struggle to sleep or know anyone who does, this email might be of huge interest (please do pass it on to them!)
The genetic trigger for sleep
As you might already know, a decade ago we mapped out the human genome. The code that makes us who we are.
Now we know everything about the human genes that give our cells instructions to grow and develop.
But what we DON’T know is how all those genes interact in the body, switching on and off various functions and systems.
However, we are beginning to find out. And the zebrafish is a rising star in the world of medical science.
Because by comparing zebrafish and human genes, and messing about with the code, we can start to find out what genes perform what function.
For instance, the same genes that develop your heart are the genes the develop a zebrafish’s heart. So by testing various compounds on zebrafish, we can quickly screen to see which drugs are best for heart disease in humans.
What’s more, we can also experiment on switching off certain genes to study how the zebrafish deals with issues such as heart damage. The latest experiments have been into insomnia.
Zebrafish are becoming key to the study of human sleep because, like us, they sleep at night, a process influenced by a similar gene to the one in us called neuromedin U (Nmu).
Earlier this year, research was published in the journal Neuron*. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology found that when this gene was over-activated in zebrafish, using a form of heat shock, it caused insomnia.
David Prober, who led the team, said: “The fish almost don’t sleep at all the night following the heat shock–so they display a very profound form of insomnia.”
So now they’re looking into ways of using this gene to turn off the sleeplessness problem.
This is important, because insomnia is very, very bad for your health.
The medical problems associated with a lack of sleep.
At the end of last year scientists at the University of Arizona published the findings of a 40-year study into insomnia. They found that if you have insomnia for six years or more (that’s at least 3 nights of bad sleep each week) then you have a 58% increased risk of death from heart and lung conditions… plus a higher chance of having diabetes, obesity, dementia and depression.
The most common solution for the problem is sleeping tablets. But your body gets used to these over time, meaning you need to constantly up your dose, risking addiction and side effects. For instance, in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in January 2015 it was revealed that some sleeping tablets could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The other solution is to take Melatonin, which is the hormone that helps your biological clock tell your brain when it’s time to go to sleep. However, in taking these additional hormones you start to shutting down your body’s natural hormone production, which leads to complete reliance on them for life.
As always, if you’re worried about sleep problems you should first consult a medical professional. Check to see if there aren’t any underlying problems.
If not, then try some natural solutions first…
Eating two kiwi fruits an hour before bed might be the key to a longer, better quality sleep. In a study, insomnia sufferers who ate kiwifruit before bed each night got an extra hour of sleep. This might be down to high levels of antioxidants and serotonin.
Rebalance your alkaline levels. Most green vegetables will provide an alkaline balance that makes you more restful. But for a shortcut try barley grass powder in water before bed.
Drink cherry juice. A study in the European Journal of Nutrition (2012) revealed that drinking tart cherry juice in the morning helped insomniacs slept an average of 34 minutes longer. This could be down to high quantities of melatonin in the fruit.
Take Magnesium to boost your serotonin production. This will help put your body into a sleepy state. But take them before 6 pm. Taking vitamin supplements after 6pm could be a contributing cause to insomnia! I personal know people who take magnesium as a sleeping aid and report getting an amazingly deep sleep from it. You can get hold of some from here.
It’s worth mentioning that not all natural supplements are the same. At People’s Doctor we recommend you try quality vitamins that are “bio-available”. This is a term for vitamins that are very similar to natural whole foods, and are absorbed by your body quickly and easily.
So if you want to try something like magnesium, this would be our recommendation or a good quality bio-available source.
What you must avoid…
If you are suffering from sleep problems you should also avoid the following:
Valerian root capsules are a natural tranquiliser however, there are side effects like headache, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems – and sometime sleeplessness! Also it’s to be avoided if you’re pregnant, breast-feeding or have liver disease.
Coffee, tea and cigarettes. Beware that some herbal teas like green tea also contain small amounts of caffeine. However, chamomile is a good one for relaxation.
Cured meats, potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines – these all contain tyramine, which is a stimulant. So eat these sorts of food early in the day rather than for your evening meal.
Work or TV before bed. Try reading a book or magazine to get to sleep.
Exercise late at night. Yes, exercise will help you sleep, but do it during the day, not in the few hours before bed time.
In the meantime, it’s worth me tracking the research being done into genetic therapy using the zebrafish, so I’ll keep you posted as the science moves on!
Until next time