Chronobiology: Rhythm in Health and Healing

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By: Unknown Author
Research in Time/Life Studies

Chronobiology is a relatively new science—the study of bio-rhythms as they relate to time. Chronobiological contexts can be studied in many areas—economic fluctuations, or social and cultural cycles. It is also applied in medicine, where its insights are relatively easily integrated into medical practice, much to the patients' benefit.

In variety and heterogenicity, biologi­cal rhythms are almost endless. Length of time has become their unifying factor, di­vided into three broad classifications: short, middle, and long rhythm curves ('curve' being defined as the duration of vibration of any identifiable rhythm). 1 Short rhythm curves include those belong­ing to the nervous system, with a dura­tion of fractions of seconds. Rhythms of circulation and respiration have longer curves, while weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles belong to the long rhythm curve category.

Classification includes differentiation between inner and outer rhythms. The in­ner rhythms, endorhythms, have a minimal dependence on environmental laws while outer exorhythms are directed exclusively by external phenomena. Between these two polarities an exo-endorhythm has been iden­tified, where an inner rhythm is affected and changed through environmental influences.

Wichert, in his Chronobiologie (Springer Verlag, 1991) describes the 24-hour rhythm, including body-temperature, waking and sleeping cycle, and metabo­lism. Chronobiological thinking has led to improved applications, such as the prac­tice of 24-hour-blood pressure measure­ment in cases of arterial hypertonia.

Circaseptan 2 periodicity is an app­roximate weekly or seven-day rhythm and contains such phenomena as the course of infectious illness or the course of a fever.

The menstrual cycle is a classic ex­ample of a monthly rhythm. Fluctuations in birth statistics, with the highest num­bers taking place in spring, while deathsare most frequent in the winter months are examples of seasonal rhythms as are infec­tious illnesses that occur in a yearly rhythm.

All these have one factor in common; they repeat similarly (not exactly) 3.

The Circadian Rhythm
Research is most advanced in the area of the circadian, or daily, rhythm. Over 30 years ago Hildebrandt proved that basic body temperature fluctuates over the course of a 24-hour day, the low point being reached at night between 3:00-4:00 o'clock and the high point in the early after­noon. Variations were noted in "morning types" and "evening types". The morning person's rhythm is displaced toward the "left" with a peak at noon, while the evening per­son has a rhythm displacement to the "right" with a peak in the late afternoon or early evening. (Roslenbroich 1994, Hildebrandt 1985-see footnote 1,2).

The sleep-waking rhythm is impressive because it is so visible as a phenomenon, especially in regards to exo-endo rhythms. Many experiments have demonstrated that this rhythm prevails even without external factors like a light or a clock (Lund and Engfer 1994).

Sleep/waking rhythm can also be mea­sured by the pulse. As a rule the heart rate is lower and more variable in sleep. Mea­suring the heart/breath quotient brings two rhythms in relation to one another, and this can change significantly during illness. (Weckenmann 1982).

Measurement of pain thresholds and curves is of great significance in all areas of medicine, of which two are identified. One is called epicritical--outer sensitivity such as a pin prick. The other, protopathic or inner sen­sitivity might be the time span between the application of a stimulus (such as cold to the teeth) and the moment pain is perceived. The highest epicritical pain threshold, (least aware­ness of pain) is around 3:00 AM and lowest around noon. Conversely, protopathic pain threshold is lowest around 3:00 AM.

During illness the above mentioned bodily rhythms may fluctuate significantly. Measurement becomes an important diag­nostic and therapeutic tool, and many methods and instruments have been devel­oped to assist in this. 4 Physical, psychic and even social health (soul mood, vitality, mas­tery over the body, as well as social envi­ronment and intensity of relationships) can now be readily recorded and diagnosed.

Chronobiological Aspects in Oncology
In cancer care chronobiology makes pos­sible an analysis and possible modification of the entire therapeutic regimen 5 . Research into circadian rhythms combined with chrono-pharmacological insights and pain therapy are means of expanding the 'usual' ontological treatment. The wide spectrum of endogenous human rhythms, self-contained and independent in the well person, may be­gin to disintegrate and increasingly come un­der the influence of exogenous rhythms dur­ing the course of a cancer illness. Histopatho­logical examination of tumors reveals that, in malignant tissue, normal organ-specific rhythms of cell division tend to fall away. For example, zones of increased mitosis (cell division) may directly border on zones of reduced activity.

This disintegration of rhythm increasingly affects the entire organism as the illness progresses. Healthy sleep/waking cycles are disrupted; sleep disturbances often being early warning symptoms. Digestive irregularities ac­company the illness progression, and the nor­mal daily rhythm of warmth regulation either becomes chaotic or fixed. Thus subjectively experienced breathing disturbances or heart arrythmias become explainable. Clearly, a therapeutic goal must include a reestablish­ment of rhythm.

Medicine, including Iscador injections, should be administered at the same time each day, supported by a rhythmical intake of food and drink. Other indications may be gath­ered from the literature below.

Article translated and excerpted courtesy of Medizinisch-Wissenschaftliche Information 21 1999, Weleda, Schwaebisch Gmuend, Germany


1 Rosslenbroich, B.: Die Rhythmische Organisation des Menschen. Aus der chronobiologischen Forschung (human rhythmical organisation—chronobiological research) Stuttgart, Verlag Freies Gestesleben, 1994.

2 Hildebrandt, G.; Bandt-Reges, I.: Chronobiologie in der Naturheilkunde, Grundlagen der Circaseptanperiodik, (chronobiology in natural therapy, foundations of circaseptan periodicity) Heidelberg, Karl. F. Haug Verlag, 1992.

3 Note: Whenever bio-rhythms are studied the word "approximate" has to be inferred, since endogenous rhythms never comply exactly with external time.

4 Westhoff, G. Handbuch psychosozialer Messinstrument (handbook of psychosocial measuring instruments) Goettingen, Germany, 1993

5 Levy, F.: Chronopharmacology of anticancer agents. In" Redfern, P.H.; Lemmer, B. (Eds.): Physiology and pharmacology of biological rhythms. Springer Berlin, 1997, p. 299-331.

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