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Circadian medicine: Light therapy could help millions of heart patients

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are exploring the intersection of heart health and circadian rhythm with a groundbreaking study.

The research underscores the transformative potential of combining intense light therapy with precise timing. This approach could fundamentally change the treatment of circulatory system conditions, including heart disease.

The findings highlight the power of leveraging circadian rhythms to address cardiovascular challenges.

Circadian medicine and cardiovascular health

Circadian rhythms, the natural cycles that regulate our sleep, wakefulness, and numerous bodily functions, are now recognized for their significant impact on heart health.

Dr. Tobias Eckle is the study’s lead author and a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“The impact of circadian rhythms on cardiovascular function and disease development is well established,” said Dr. Eckle. Consequently, circadian medicine is a growing field that explores targeted interventions which align with our internal clock to enhance heart health.

Intense light therapy: A beacon of hope

The study advocates for the aggressive application of intense light therapy in humans, building on promising results from animal models. This innovative approach uses light boxes and chronotherapeutic drugs to mimic natural circadian rhythms. It offers a low-risk, high-reward treatment for millions of heart patients.

Further emphasizing this point, Dr. Eckle’s work highlights how intense light therapy, particularly post-heart surgery, can protect and aid heart recovery. It stabilizes the PER2 gene and elevates adenosine, reducing irregular rhythms and the risk of cardiac ischemia, characterized by diminished heart blood flow.

The role of timing in treatment

The significance of timing in medication administration is another key finding of the study. Administering drugs at specific times can enhance the healing process by aligning with the body’s circadian rhythms. This tailored approach to treatment could significantly accelerate recovery.

Additionally, the study highlights how cardiovascular disease differs between genders. The research suggests that circadian medicine could provide tailored treatments for these disparities, making care more personalized.

Call to action: Advancing human trials

With the compelling evidence in favor of intense light and timed treatment strategies, Dr. Eckle emphasized the urgency of advancing to clinical trials in humans.

“Circadian rhythms play a crucial role in cardiovascular health,” he said, advocating for the exploration of low-risk strategies like intense light therapy and chronotherapy in human subjects.

New era in cardiac care

As the field of circadian medicine continues to evolve, its potential to transform cardiovascular treatment is immense. The experts are close to developing more effective, personalized heart disease treatments by aligning medical interventions with the body’s natural rhythms. This marks a new era in cardiac care.

The call for further human trials is a crucial step in unlocking the full potential of this innovative approach. It promises a future of managing heart health more naturally, effectively, and with fewer risks.

More about circadian medicine

Circadian medicine is an innovative and expanding field of medicine that focuses on understanding and optimizing the human body’s internal biological clock, or circadian rhythms, to improve health and treat diseases

Circadian clock

The circadian clock, which follows a roughly 24-hour cycle, regulates many physiological processes, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits, and metabolism. These processes are influenced by external cues like light and darkness, which help synchronize the body’s clock to its environment.

Circadian rhythms 

Disruptions to circadian rhythms have been linked to various health issues, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular diseases. Circadian medicine aims to prevent and treat these conditions by realigning our internal clocks through lifestyle interventions, timed medication, light therapy, and other methods.

Key aspects of circadian medicine


Timing medical treatments to coincide with the body’s biological rhythms to enhance effectiveness and reduce side effects. For example, administering certain medications at the time of day when they are most likely to be effective and least likely to cause adverse reactions.

Light therapy

Using exposure to artificial light to adjust and manage sleep disorders and depression, especially conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and irregular sleep-wake rhythms.

Lifestyle interventions 

Recommending changes in sleep habits, diet, and exercise based on an individual’s circadian rhythms to improve overall health. For instance, optimizing the timing of meals and physical activity to align with the body’s natural metabolic cycles.

Genetic and molecular insights

Understanding the genetic basis of circadian rhythms to develop personalized medical approaches. Research in this area explores how genetic variations affect individuals’ circadian rhythms and their susceptibility to related disorders.

The study is published in the journal Circulation Research.


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