Why Eating Late-Night May Increase Your Risk Of Unhealthy Heart
Late-night meals may take negative effect on heart health, a new study suggests. The research, presented (Nov. 10) at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions annual meeting, found that eating more later in the evening was associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
In the study, the team looked at data from two separate days in which participants reported their eating habits, and compared this information with measurements such as blood pressure and blood sugar. The study author Nour Makarem, a postdoctoral fellow in cardiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The researchers used a database called the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos to look at information on more than 12,700 Hispanic and Latino adults ages 18 to 76.
(Though the study looked at just one specific population in the U.S., the Hispanic and Latino population, “we do expect to see similar associations in other populations in the U.S.,” Makarem said. Indeed, several studies conducted abroad have shown that meal timing may be associated with developing risk factors for heart disease, she added.)
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They found that over half of the people in the study consumed 30 percent or more of their daily calories after 6 p.m. Those participants had higher levels of fasting blood sugar (a measure of the amount of sugar in the blood when someone hasn’t eaten in hours), higher levels of insulin (the hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood), higher levels of HOMA-IR (a marker of resistance to insulin) and higher blood pressure than participants who reported eating less than 30 percent of their daily calories after 6 p.m.
A high fasting blood sugar level can be considered a sign of prediabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Prediabetes means that a person’s blood sugar levels are abnormally high, but not high enough to be considered diabetes.)
The researchers found that those who consumed 30 percent or more of their daily calories after 6 p.m. were 19 percent more likely to develop prediabetes than those who ate more earlier in the day. Seventy percent of people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes, which is a risk factor for heart disease, Makarem noted.
Those same participants were also 23 percent more likely to develop hypertension, compared with people who ate more earlier the day. These associations were especially common in women, Makarem added.
However, Makarem said that one possible explanation for the link is that problems can arise when our body clocks aren’t synced to our environment. Almost every cell in the body can tell time, following a roughly 24-hour cycle. A small part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus serves as the body’s master clock, receiving external light cues (ideally from the sun) and sets the rest of the clocks in the body’s cells accordingly, telling people when to wake up, sleep and eat, Makarem said.
“These clocks are regulated by bright-light exposure, but also by behaviors, particularly food signals,” Makarem said. So, when we eat at unconventional times — for example, by consuming more calories in the evening — the body’s clocks can become misaligned with the master clock, leading to problems in metabolism and increasing the risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, she said.