Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is not there will not break, what is not there cannot be explained.

Jet Lag

An airplane is a conveyance whose purpose, like a reformatory's, is to torment its inmates. If you are willing to encapsulate yourself in a plane for a long distance, its owners will assume you are of stronger stuff than the plebeian domestic passenger, and will put before you a meal calculated to break you. You, seeking relief from your torment, will eat this manufactured slop even though you know you are doing yourself more harm than good. You may even compound your folly by drinking the simulacrum of wine that is passed out in little plastic bottles. The only benefit in the whole affair is that your jet lag will seem less hideous by comparison.

My species of jet lag tends to the particularly hideous. Even a (relatively) short hop to Europe can leave me with a week of lethargy and brain-fog. My trips to the Far East are too horrific to commit to print. It was therefore with pleasure that, before setting out for India last month, I learned that by skipping the in-flight fare, I might skip the jet lag as well.

The Argonne Anti-Jet-Lag diet, as the putative antidote is known, was devised in the 1980s by the late Charles Ehret, a "chronobiologist" at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois who discovered that our biological clocks are cued in part by when and how much we eat. After experimenting on protozoa, rats, and his eight children, Ehret recommended that the international traveler, in the several days before his flight, alternate days of feasting with days of very light eating. Come the flight, the traveler would nibble sparsely until eating a big breakfast at about 7:30 a.m. in his new time zone - no matter that it was still 1:30 a.m. in the old time zone or that the airline wasn't serving breakfast until 10:00 a.m. His reward would be little or no jet lag.

Ehret theorized that the diet worked because the days of irregular eating gradually unmoored the body's biological clock from its usual rhythms, while the big breakfast and subsequent meals re-anchored the clock in the new time zone. In a 2002 study published in the journal Military Medicine, National Guardsmen who followed the diet were found to be 7.5 times less likely than a control group to suffer jet lag after flying from the United States to Korea. On their return, they were 16.2 times less likely to lag. (The difference between the two flights has not been explained, although, as the authors noted, jet lag is more common flying east than flying west.) {Read on}