Clocks, Rhythms, Sex, and Hearts: How Disrupted Circadian Rhythms, Time-of-Day, and Sex Influence Cardiovascular Health

Biomolecules. 2021 Jun 14;11(6):883. doi: 10.3390/biom11060883.


Cardiovascular diseases are the top cause of mortality in the United States, and ischemic heart disease accounts for 16% of all deaths around the world. Modifiable risk factors such as diet and exercise have often been primary targets in addressing these conditions. However, mounting evidence suggests that environmental factors that disrupt physiological rhythms might contribute to the development of these diseases, as well as contribute to increasing other risk factors that are typically associated with cardiovascular disease. Exposure to light at night, transmeridian travel, and social jetlag disrupt endogenous circadian rhythms, which, in turn, alter carefully orchestrated bodily functioning, and elevate the risk of disease and injury. Research into how disrupted circadian rhythms affect physiology and behavior has begun to reveal the intricacies of how seemingly innocuous environmental and social factors have dramatic consequences on mammalian physiology and behavior. Despite the new focus on the importance of circadian rhythms, and how disrupted circadian rhythms contribute to cardiovascular diseases, many questions in this field remain unanswered. Further, neither time-of-day nor sex as a biological variable have been consistently and thoroughly taken into account in previous studies of circadian rhythm disruption and cardiovascular disease. In this review, we will first discuss biological rhythms and the master temporal regulator that controls these rhythms, focusing on the cardiovascular system, its rhythms, and the pathology associated with its disruption, while emphasizing the importance of the time-of-day as a variable that directly affects outcomes in controlled studies, and how temporal data will inform clinical practice and influence personalized medicine. Finally, we will discuss evidence supporting the existence of sex differences in cardiovascular function and outcomes following an injury, and highlight the need for consistent inclusion of both sexes in studies that aim to understand cardiovascular function and improve cardiovascular health.

Keywords: cardiovascular system; chronomedicine; circadian disruption; circadian rhythms; personalized medicine; sex differences; time-of-day.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular System* / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular System* / physiopathology
  • Circadian Clocks*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Heart / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics*