The 'Body Clock' Way to Better Health

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To truly embrace chronomedicine, says Smolensky, "physicians will need to abandon many of their current practices. They will need to throw out many norms by which they now evaluate patients. They will need to write in their charts not only what signs and symptoms they find, but when they find them. They will need to pay attention to the time of day they draw blood, and when they collect urine and other bodily tissues for diagnostic tests. They may even need to schedule tests at specific times of day or night."

In fact, chronomedicine can help people better cope with short-term illnesses such as colds and flu, episodic ones such as headaches and back pain, and persistent ailments like arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and more, says Smolensky.

And "chronotherapy" -- medications developed in doses proportioned to match day and night symptom patterns -- is now replacing some standard single-dose medications. "The old 'take this medicine three times a day,' is obsolete," Smolensky tells WebMD. "In prescribing equal doses over the day, your doctor presumes that your need for medication is the same all day, and that a consistent amount of medication confers a uniform benefit at all times. That belief is wrong.

"If your symptoms wax and wane over the day, you need proportionately more medication to control them," says Smolensky. "Moreover, the way your body absorbs, uses, and excretes drugs varies over the day. The same dose of medicine may be too much at one time, and too little at another." Asthma and heart medications have been developed based on these principles.

Especially when it comes to dealing with chronic problems, like osteoarthritis, "it's essential that people learn to chart their own patterns, how their symptoms wax and wane," Smolensky says.

"When you know your own rhythms, when you're most functional, you optimize your quality of life," he says. "You get more things done, enjoy your social interactions more."

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