In the fast-paced world we live in, it can be difficult to find time to sit down and eat dinner. For some of us, the evening meal might be an on-the-go event. For others, dinner may come very late in the evening because we haven’t had time to prepare (or even eat) earlier than that.
But more and more research is showing how our busy lifestyles are actually chipping away at our health and happiness, and our eating habits are no exception. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain, a place where everyone eats dinner late, has shown an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer in those who eat dinner shortly before going to bed, or at 9 p.m. or later.
The study followed 621 people with prostate cancer, 1,205 people with breast cancer, 872 healthy males, and 1,321 healthy females. Participants were interviewed and asked about their meal timing, sleep habits, and preference for being more active earlier or later in the day (also known as their chronotype). They were also asked about their overall eating habits and adherence to current recommendations for cancer avoidance (such as not smoking).
“Our study concludes that adherence to diurnal eating patterns is associated with a lower risk of cancer,” said lead author Manolis Kogevinas from ISGlobal. “The findings highlight the importance of assessing circadian rhythms in studies on diet and cancer.”
Dr. Kogevinas also noted that the mechanisms of this phenomenon are not quite clear. “What we know from experimental studies is that we are conditioned to function in different parts of the day. We — not only humans but all living organisms — have developed throughout time functioning differently in day and night.”
Previous research has shown that prostate and breast cancers may be linked to the circadian rhythm, which is why getting enough sleep, sleeping in complete darkness, and sleeping without interruptions are such important habits. But circadian rhythms are about more than just sleep; they refer the physical, mental, behavioral, and psychological patterns human beings follow each day. And that includes food intake.
More research needs to be conducted, but the current findings suggest that late-night snacking and late meals may even be as bad for your body as night-shift work and other activities that wreak havoc on the biological rhythms of the body.
“Population-based studies have found that people that eat late at night have higher rates of obesity and worse metabolic profiles,” says Catherine Marinac, a research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who was not involved in the study. “And in particular, we have found that people that have a longer nightly fasting duration, which might imply less late-night eating, have better blood sugar control and a lower risk of cancer recurrence. Disruption of your body clock and reduced ability to process glucose are possible mechanistic factors linking late-night eating to cancer risk.”
Habitually eating your last meal before 9 p.m., on the other hand, appears to decrease your risk of developing breast and prostate cancers and other health issues. So while we wait for future studies to come along, try to get your meals in as early in the evening as you can. And spread the news to help a friend prevent cancer!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?