Chronobesity: role of the circadian system in the obesity epidemic

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Although obesity is considered to result from an imbalance between energy uptake and energy expenditure, the strategy of dietary changes and physical exercise has failed to tackle the global obesity epidemic. In search of alternative and more adequate treatment options, research has aimed at further unravelling the mechanisms underlying this excessive weight gain. While numerous studies are focusing on the neuroendocrine alterations that occur after bariatric Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, an increasing amount of chronobiological studies have started to raise awareness concerning the pivotal role of the circadian system in the development and exacerbation of obesity. This internal timekeeping mechanism rhythmically regulates metabolic and physiological processes in order to meet the fluctuating demands in energy use and supply throughout the 24-h day. This review elaborates on the extensive bidirectional interaction between the circadian system and metabolism and explains how disruption of body clocks by means of shift work, frequent time zone travelling or non-stop consumption of calorie-dense foods can evoke detrimental metabolic alterations that contribute to obesity. Altering the body's circadian rhythms by means of time-related dietary approaches (chrononutrition) or pharmacological substances (chronobiotics) may therefore represent a novel and interesting way to prevent or treat obesity and associated comorbidities.

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