Health: How the biological clock can indicate the best time to take medicine and vaccines - BBC News BBC Homepage

Health: How the biological clock can indicate the best time to take medicine and vaccines – BBC News BBC Homepage

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Medicines displayed on spoons around a clock

The biological clock dictates the rhythm of our body – and it is not for nothing that we have to watch it.

There is growing scientific evidence that it can tell the best times of day to take care of your health, whether it’s taking certain medications or getting your shots.

“We are very different people at noon and at midnight,” says Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford, UK.

This is due precisely to our biological clock – also known as the circadian rhythm – which regulates the daily activities of the body over a period of 24 hours (approximately).

It allows our body to function on a schedule, dictating the rhythm of virtually every oscillation that occurs in our organism.

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In other words, our body is programmed to do different things at different times of the day, from releasing certain hormones to raising or lowering body temperature.

According to Mr Foster, the symptoms of certain diseases – as well as the likelihood of suffering from certain conditions, such as heart attacks – also vary during the day, due to changes in the biological clock.

Therefore, when we take certain medications can make a difference.

“As the hundreds of chemical reactions and physical changes that occur in our bodies vary greatly throughout the day, the symptoms of illnesses also change during this time. Therefore, there is an ‘ideal’ time to take many drugs in order to make them more effective. And there is a lot of research to back it up,” Foster wrote in an article in Britain’s Daily Mail.

According to him, more than 100 drugs have been identified that have different effects during the day.

However, it is important to remember that any change in the treatment regimen of a drug should always be discussed with a doctor beforehand.

Remedy for high blood pressure

This is the case of drugs intended to combat hypertension, that is to say high blood pressure.

Research indicates that this type of medication offers better protection against heart attacks and strokes when taken at bedtime – rather than in the morning.

“If you want to take an antihypertensive (medicine to reduce blood pressure), the data is now very, very clear… Some very interesting studies show that if you take (the antihypertensive) before bedtime, rather than the morning, you can almost halve the risk of stroke and heart attack,” Mr Foster said in an interview with BBC Radio 4.

This was shown in a 2019 study by the University of Vigo, Spain, which looked at more than 19,000 people taking this type of medication.

The participants were randomly divided into two groups: one took the pills in the morning, the other at bedtime.

They were followed by researchers for at least five years.

The results showed that participants who took the drug at night were almost half as likely to die – or suffer – from a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

And, according to Ms Foster, the risk of suffering from these disorders is highest in the morning.

“One of the main contributing factors is the increase in heart rate and blood pressure in the first hours before we wake up every day. In practice, this increase – driven by the biological clock – causes us to get up and go. touch life”, writes the expert in the Daily Mail.

But if the risk is higher in the morning, then why are blood pressure medications more effective when taken in the evening?

According to Mr. Foster, this can be explained by what is called pharmacokinetics, the science which studies the path traveled by drugs in the human body, from their ingestion, their absorption until their excretion.

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Respecting the time of our biological clock can make the difference in the fight against certain diseases

“All of these processes take time. So taking blood pressure medication at bedtime means levels of the drug rise and stay in the body at relatively high levels.”

“Therefore, it is able to reduce blood pressure to coincide with when the sharp rise in blood pressure normally occurs, between 6 a.m. and noon,” writes the expert.


According to Foster, a similar effect is observed in the case of aspirin.

Often prescribed to reduce the risk of stroke, it should also be taken before bedtime, rather than in the morning, he says.

This medication works by preventing blood platelets from sticking together to form unwanted clots.

“Every night 100 billion new platelets are produced, so taking aspirin at this time of day, just when they are forming, helps ensure that new platelets are ‘turned off’ well before the window dangerous for stroke the next morning,” Foster told the Daily Mail.


The expert also claims that our biological clock can indicate the best time to take a statin – a drug usually prescribed to reduce the production of cholesterol by the liver.

“Blood cholesterol levels follow a circadian rhythm, with cholesterol normally being produced between midnight and 6 a.m. The best time to take a statin depends on the type of statin used: some remain effective in the blood for four to six hours, but others work for 20 or even 30 hours,” Foster wrote.

Thus, in the case of short-acting statins, such as simvastatin, the most effective would be to take them at bedtime, in order “to attack the nighttime production of cholesterol”, according to Mr. Foster.

“But if you’re taking statins that are effective for 20 to 30 hours, like atorvastatin, take them anytime, because their effectiveness will always outweigh the higher levels of cholesterol production at night.”


And is there also a best time to get vaccinated?

It appears to be because our immune system is most active during the day, when we are most likely to encounter other people’s pathogens.

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There is growing evidence that vaccines are influenced by our biological clock

“A study done with one of the flu vaccines shows that the morning vaccination is much more effective than the afternoon, late afternoon vaccination,” Foster told the BBC.

It refers to a clinical trial carried out in 2016 on elderly people, in which a part was vaccinated against the flu (virus responsible for the flu) in the morning (between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.) and another part in the afternoon ( between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.).

“People vaccinated in the morning had three times the antibody response compared to those vaccinated in the afternoon, when the immune system begins to slow down overnight,” Foster wrote in the Daily Mail article.

You may be wondering about the covid-19 vaccine, but it’s not yet clear whether the time of day it’s applied affects the immune response.

“People are looking at whether the time of day affects covid vaccines, and this data is going to be exciting,” the expert told the BBC.

Foster also draws attention to the importance of living in sync with our biological clock to keep the immune system functioning properly.

“If your sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, if your circadian rhythm is altered, you’re actually reducing the immune system’s response to vaccination,” he warns.

To keep your body clock in sync, the expert says getting plenty of daylight exposure, maintaining a consistent sleep-wake routine, and eating at regular times are key.

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