Most of us have experienced disruption to our sleep at some point in our lives. Whether its due to a horrendous week of deadlines, or jet lag from travel, we all know how terrible it feels to be living without enough sleep.
Unfortunately for frequent travellers and shift workers, a new study published by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine has identified the potential health dangers that chronic disruption to a regular sleeping pattern can bring to the liver.
Researchers used mice to study how disruption of circadian rhythm (our regular sleeping pattern) could impact the healthy functioning of the liver. They achieved this by modifying the times that the mice were exposed to light each week. Although the researchers ensured that the mice maintained a healthy diet throughout the experiment, they found that they tended to gain weight and develop fatty liver disease.
The fatty liver disease would then progress to fibrosis (a buildup of scar tissue in the liver), and in some cases ultimately resulted in the mice developing a type of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma.
The disruption of sleep in the mice appears to have resulted in changes in gene expression and metabolism in the liver, which promoted the synthesis and storage of fat in the organ. Ultimately, these molecular changes induced fatty liver disease, and the progression to hepatocellular carcinoma.