Timing is Everything
We used to think that the only thing that matters when it comes to eating and health is calories in/calories out. In other words, in any given 24-hour period, the only thing that mattered was how many calories you consumed, and how many you expended through daily activities. Balancing these two results in healthy body weight. And maintaining a healthy body weight is one sure way to help prevent heart disease.
Or so we thought.
As it turns out, evidence has been emerging in recent years to suggest that WHEN you eat is as important as what or how much you eat. Of course, a healthy diet is still important. But all other things being equal, it now appears as if eating late at night is far worse for your health than we ever realized.
Late-night snackers take note: You may be playing Russian roulette with your cardiovascular health. The latest research focused on the lowly fruit fly. These creatures are used to study many fundamental aspects of biology, because their entire lives play out over just two short months. Fruit flies have been used to demonstrate, for example, that calorie restriction significantly extends lifespan.
Calorie restriction (CR) refers to the practice of reducing caloric intake by about one-third, while maintaining complete nutrition. Numerous experiments have shown that CR extends lifespan significantly among numerous species. It may even work in humans, although it’s difficult to be certain, given that human lifespan already approaches 100 years.
With the present study, investigators at San Diego State University and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that fruit flies that were allowed to eat for just 12 hours daily—and never at night—tended to live significantly longer, and suffer less deterioration to their hearts, than other flies that were allowed to feed whenever they liked. The flies also slept better, and gained less weight. The experiment worked whether flies were young or old when the restricted eating hours began.
This tendency to suffer more health problems associated with late-night eating has already been reported among humans. People who eat late at night are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, for instance. Work with the flies indicates that three separate genetic pathways are involved.
“All together, these results reinforce the idea that the daily eating pattern has a profound impact on both the body and the brain," said researcher, Satchidananda Panda. Of course, it will be a while before investigators can reliably relate this research directly to humans. “Humans don't consume the same food every day,” said lead investigator, Shubhroz Gill. “And our lifestyle is a major determinant of when we can and cannot eat. But at the very minimum, our studies offer some context in which we should be pursuing such questions in humans.”
So there you have it. If you want to continue boosting your own health, consider eating for just 12 hours daily. After that, cut yourself off until the following day. It just might have an impact on your long-term heart health.
Satchidananda Panda et al. Time-restricted feeding attenuates age-related cardiac decline in Drosophila. Science, March 2015 DOI: 10.1126/science.1256682
San Diego State University website. Newscenter page. Accessed Mar. 13, 2015 from: http://universe.sdsu.edu/sdsu_newscenter/news_story.aspx?sid=75480