We’ve all heard that eating certain foods in specific amounts or at certain times can be damaging to our health. What many people don’t realize is that the time we eat can also make us unwell. In other words, it is important not only what we eat and how much we consume, but also when we eat.
The body’s daily adaptability to our surroundings
To understand why eating late can be beneficial to our health, we must first discuss circadian rhythms.
The cycles that occur in most living beings with a frequency of about one day are known by that term. The sleep-wake cycle, hormone release, and fluctuations in body temperature are only a few examples. These cycles enable us to anticipate and respond to changes in our surroundings.
The circadian clock, which has its main gear in our brain, is in charge of coordinating these natural processes. This is coordinated with several secondary gears found in practically all of our body’s organs.
Although the human body maintains its own circadian clocks, different external cues allow us to synchronize our biological clocks. The light we receive every day through our eyes is the most significant. Natural light stimulates wakefulness during the day, while darkness encourages the creation of melatonin, the sleep hormone, at night.
The secondary gears of this system can be coordinated by other parts. The act of eating or exercising sends signals to our peripheral clocks, which are located in organs including the muscle, pancreas, and liver.
What happens if we don’t set our internal clock correctly?
Circadian rhythms can be disrupted by a mismatch between external stimuli and the internal clock. Chronodisruption is the term for this. The night shift job is an excellent example. In this condition, our bodies are exposed to external stimuli at inopportune times, primarily artificial light at night.
The circadian rhythms of those who work nights are disrupted by this persistent mismatch, which can be harmful to their health.
Night work has been categorized as probably carcinogenic to malignancies of the prostate, breast, and colon by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). One of the hypotheses advanced in this current IARC assessment is that exposure to artificial light at night lowers the generation of melatonin, a hormone having anticancer properties.
Suppression of the immune system, persistent inflammation, and cell growth as a result of the chronodisruption are also proposed as plausible processes.
Eating late is a bad habit
Given that food has the ability to synchronize our internal clock, it was only recently explored whether eating after hours could have a negative impact on human health. In 2018, Professor Manolis Kogevinas carried out a study that found that eating supper before 9 p.m. was linked to a lower risk of prostate and breast cancer than eating dinner after 10 p.m.
Similarly, leaving a 2 hour or longer gap between dinner and bedtime was linked to a lower incidence of this condition compared to individuals who went to bed right after supper.
In the same year, a study led by Dr. Bernard Srour using data from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort yielded similar results. In a recent French study, eating out after 9:30 p.m. was linked to a higher risk of prostate and breast cancer. Other plausible explanations, such as the quality of the participants’ food, physical activity, or alcohol consumption, were not shown to be significant.
This link could be explained by inflammation or obesity-related mechanisms.
Long night fast, yes, but eating breakfast early
Additionally, we need to take into account the length of time we spent fasting as well as the time we eat for breakfast. In one of the most recent studies, they found that a long night fast (greater than 11 hours), which would restrict the window of eating during the day, was related to a lower chance of getting prostate cancer. Notably, this new study shows the importance of breaking an overnight fast early in the morning.
According to these findings, it is best to eat an early dinner rather than postpone breakfast in order to extend the overnight fast.
To summarize, these findings suggest that it is critical to synchronize the eating and fasting cycles with the natural and daily cycle of light and darkness on our planet.
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