Working the night shift, eating at odd times, and snacking late at night can all promote the development of diabetes, according to a new study that finds lifestyles that upset the body’s natural clock can invite significant health risks.
The study, conducted by Vanderbilt University researchers and published in the journal Current Biology, has found “living against the clock” greatly increases the risks of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other conditions.
The findings, which are based on research involving laboratory mice, indicate insulin rises and falls according to a 24-hour so-called “circadian rhythm” and can be upset by changes in daily wake-sleep patterns.
"We used to think some things were so important that they must be kept constant," said researcher Carl Johnson. "But those metabolic set points are changing as a function of the time of day."
Johnson's team measured insulin in mice at different times of day to reveal a regular pattern. Normal mice become insulin resistant during the day, when the nocturnal animals are mostly sleeping. But mice unable to follow that natural pattern lost that insulin rhythm and gained more weight, putting them at risk for diabetes and other conditions.
Although the research involved mice, the investigators said the same patterns occur in humans.
They said insulin action and blood sugar metabolism are tied to the time of day and to the internal mechanisms that keep track of that time. “It's a challenging reality for us humans, living as we do today in the comfort of our homes, where the lights come on at the flip of a switch and the food is plentiful,” they added.
Johnson said the findings suggest diets that limit when people eat, as well as what they eat, could help combat the epidemic of obesity.
"Mediterranean diets in which the main meal is eaten in the middle of the day are probably healthier," he said, adding that it's probably healthier to eat a light supper and avoid snacking after dinner.
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