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Are late-night meals affecting our health?

Is your late night meal delivering cancer on a plate? Are late night meals affecting your health?  A new study suggests timing of late night meals is linked to cancer risk.

Modern lifestyles have profoundly changed our eating habits. Our food consumption is now often out of step with our circadian rhythms.

We eat to fit into our busy lifestyles, rather than adjusting our lives to our eating needs.  How many of us have late night meals and go to bed soon after eating? 

A body of evidence now suggests that this mismatch,  or 'mistiming',  can  profoundly affect our health.

Lifestyles driving eating habits. 

Experimental and epidemiological evidence shows that long term disruption of endogenous circadian rhythms, in particular due to exposure to light at night, may be associated with a wide range of common diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Now this new study provides some evidence to show that this extends to our night-time eating habits.

From an evolutionary perspective, intermittent eating patterns with periods of fasting would have been the norm in early humans.  Food was primarily consumed during daylight, and with long hours of overnight fasting.

Modern conveniences and lifestyle have stretched this so that we are now eating way past daylight hours.  The idea is that this has decoupled our food consumption and digestion from our natural biological clocks, our circadian rhythm. 

New study in Spain

The new study published in the International Journal of Cancer  reveals that eating an early supper and having a long interval between the last meal and sleep are associated with lower breast and prostate cancer risks.

The study included 621 cases of prostate and 1205 of breast cancer with 872 male and 1321 female population controls. Participants were interviewed on timing of meals and sleep, and they completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire.

Risk of breast and prostate cancers

Compared with individuals sleeping immediately after supper, those sleeping two or more hours after supper had a 20% reduction in cancer risk for breast and prostate cancer combined and in each cancer individually. A similar protection was observed in individuals having supper before 9pm compared with supper after 10pm.

The findings stress the importance of evaluating the body’s internal clock—or circadian rhythms—in studies on diet and cancer, and the need to develop dietary recommendations for cancer prevention that focus not only on type and quantity of food intake, but also on meal times.

“If the findings are confirmed, they will have implications for cancer prevention recommendations that currently do not take meal timing into account” says lead author Dr. Manolis Kogevinas, of ISGlobal, in Barcelona.
The impact could be especially important in cultures such as those of southern Europe where people tend to have supper late.



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