Morning Flight

“Study Finds” Breakfast Could Reduce Jet Lag – Or Maybe Not

With the onset of fall, we are staring at the prospect of a good bit of travel. So this story indeed grabbed our attention. “A hearty breakfast could reduce jet lag in older adults, study finds” was the headline in the Washington Post. We like breakfast, so this seems like a win-win proposition.

There’s just one teensy problem. “Could” is doing a lot of work in that headline because the study in question was not a study of real human beings and their symptoms of jet lag. Nope. It was an exercise in mathematical modeling to estimate what the effect on jet lag could possibly be if the modelers’ assumptions about biological mechanisms of jet lag are correct. No humans were harmed or helped in the conduct of this “study.”

A Reasonable, but Untested Proposition

In writing this misleading story, Teddy Amenabar recruited some excellent experts on our biological clocks. For example, Amenabar wrote:

“If the study’s findings bear out in clinical trials, the recommendation to eat a big breakfast could be a ‘godsend’ for frequent travelers, said Samer Hattar, the chief and senior investigator for the section on light and circadian rhythms at the National Institute of Mental Health, who was not involved in the study. Based on the modeling, though, ‘it looks as if it works pretty well.’”

Again, we note the caveat – if the findings bear out in clinical trials.

Getting Burned by Assumptions

This is nothing more than a friendly reminder that assumptions about nutrition and health have a way of burning us. Assuming in the 1980s that dietary fat was our enemy had the effect of reshaping the American food supply so that low-fat everything received a healthy halo. Obesity rates took off (coincidentally) and decades passed before anyone questioned it. It took even longer to correct the mistake.

So yes, it sounds good to try to nudge your biological clock by syncing up meal timings with a new time zone. And we have plenty of reasons to think that the timing of hearty meals can matter.

But has anyone actually shown that a big breakfast in a new time zone will save you from two days of jet lag? Nope.

Click here for the story in the Washington Post and here for the paper that prompted it.

Morning Flight, photograph by Ted Kyle / ConscienHealth

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September 8, 2023