Early Suppers May Help Prevent Disease
Evening snacking might affect much more than the numbers on the bathroom scale. A new study shows that waiting longer between supper and breakfast reduces our risk of both breast cancer and diabetes. Eating in accordance with our body's natural sleep-wake cycle appears to regulate our blood sugar levels, thereby reducing our risk for diseases associated with higher Hemoglogin A1c (HbA1c). Every three hour increase in the nighttime fast was associated with a four percent lower two-hour glucose measurement and a non-statistically significant lower HbA1c. This is the first study to begin teasing out the connection between eating, sleeping, and the length of time between supper and breakfast, but the implications are exciting for those seeking to take charge of their risk for lifestyle-related diseases.
Thirteen appeared to be the magic number of hours between supper and breakfast. In the study, which reviewed eating and sleep data from 2,212 women, the mean length of the reported nighttime fast was 12 hours. The researchers found a 21 percent increase in breast cancer mortality for these women when compared to the women who reported intermittent fasting of more than 13 hours. Similarly, there was a 22 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality for women whose nightly fast was shorter than 13 hours. In both cases, the difference did not reach statistical significance, but the results remain intriguing for researchers.
Other research has indicated that women with diabetes have around a 20% increased risk of developing breast cancer, which lends importance to discovering the connection between eating-sleeping patterns, blood sugar levels, and breast cancer. Other research has also shown a connection between an increased incidence of breast cancer among long-term night shift workers. This new study points to the eating patterns of night shift workers as a possible factor in the correlation between working at night and breast cancer incidence.
Landmark studies in rodents tipped off the researchers that there could be a link between fasting and breast cancer. In mice, prolonged intermittent fasting during sleep "led to improved glucoregulation; reduced body and mammary fat pad mass; reduced inflammation; and improved regulation of circadian rhythm patterns," says Catherine Marinac, a PhD candidate at the University of California at San Diego Cancer Center. However, no human studies had been conducted. Marinac and her colleagues analyzed data from the Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study. They specifically reviewed data on women who had survived breast cancer, looking for patterns of recurrence. In addition to a lower risk of breast cancer, the researchers found that women with a 13-hour or greater nighttime fast also:
- Ate fewer calories per day
- Consumed a lower number of calories after 10 p.m.
- Reported fewer eating episodes
Marinac says, "Prolonging the length of the nightly fasting interval may be a simple, non-pharmacologic strategy for reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence as well as other chronic conditions with etiologic [causative] ties to breast cancer such as type 2 diabetes." Co-author Ruth Patterson, PhD, adds that while most advice on avoiding cancer focuses on diet, this "new evidence suggests that when and how often people eat can also play a role in cancer risk."
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