posted on 12/4/2021 06:00
The habit also makes the person more vulnerable to the onset of heart disease and obesity – (credit: Hector Retamal/AFP)
Eating meals at night can cause significant health imbalances, particularly increasing the risk of developing diabetes. That’s because food intakes during this period increase the body’s glucose levels, shows a study published in the journal Science Advances. For the authors of the study, the result may help to create strategies to prevent metabolic disease, in addition to obesity and heart disease, among people who have the habit of eating at alternative times or who need to follow this regimen.
The group — made up of scientists from the United States and Germany — evaluated 19 healthy young people (seven women and 12 men), who underwent a battery of tests for the initial analysis of their clinical conditions. Participants were then randomly assigned to follow a laboratory-controlled routine for 14 days, involving simulated night work conditions, with two meal times. Part of those analyzed ate during the night, and the other group ate during the day.
The scientists’ intention was to observe the effects of mealtimes on the biological clock, also called circadian rhythms, of volunteers. “This is the process our body uses to regulate the sleep/wake cycle as well as the 24-hour cycle of virtually all bodily functions,” explain the authors in the article.
Eating at night was found to increase the volunteers’ glucose levels, an effect not observed in those who followed the opposite regimen. “Specifically, mean glucose levels for those who ate at night increased by 6.4% during simulated night work, while those who ate during the day did not show significant increases,” they detail.
Scientists believe that the effects of nocturnal eating on glucose levels were caused by circadian misalignment. The hypothesis is that there is a timing error between the central circadian clock, located in the hypothalamus of the brain, which ends up influencing other peripheral clocks in the body.
“This study reinforces the notion that the time you eat is important to your health. The body is governed by cycles of light and dark, fasting and eating. When we change that order, we can interfere with the way we eat. behaves, which can cause damage to the entire organism”, explains, in a statement, Sarah L. Chellappa, co-author of the study and researcher at the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Cologne, Germany.
Those responsible for the study assess that, despite the analysis having been carried out with few volunteers, the data can be considered by the medical area and help people who work at night to take care of their health. “Our work also suggests that those who trade day for night can benefit from eating during the daytime. This can contribute to their internal clocks being better aligned”, emphasizes Chellappa.
According to the authors, this is the first study in humans to demonstrate the use of mealtime as a measure against negative effects of misalignment of circadian rhythms. “This discovery can be used in a very beneficial way”, says Frank Scheer, professor of medicine at Harvard University, in the United States, and one of the participating scientists.
However, to confirm the data, further studies are needed. Future investigations should include people who work in shifts and accompany them in their daily routine and in the work environment, ponders the group. “This is a rigorous, highly controlled laboratory study that demonstrates a potential intervention for adverse metabolic effects associated with shift work, which is a known public health issue. We hope that further studies will confirm the results and help unravel even more details of the biological basis of these discoveries”, says Marishka Brown, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in the USA.