OCT 22, 2022 8:00 AM PDT

The Downside of Eating Late

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Aeh

Thinking of having a midnight snack? Think again. That midnight snack you crave can contribute to an increased risk of obesity, and an increase in body fat, keeping one from successfully losing weight. Nearly half of the U.S. adult population is considered obese. Obesity can result in chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and other health-related problems.

But what is it about a snack after midnight or late-night eating, for that matter, that contributes to such unhealthy side effects? While plenty of diet trends have advised against late-night eating, few have investigated why. Wanting to understand why, investigators from the Brigham and Women's Hospital took it upon themselves to test the mechanisms that could explain why late-night eating is associated with an increased risk for obesity.

Assessing 16 patients with a BMI (Body Mass Index) in the range of overweight or obese the team of investigators sought to comprehensively investigate the simultaneous effects of late-night snacking on the three main components of obesity and body weight regulation: calorie intake, the number of calories burned, and molecular changes in fatty tissue.

Each patient completed two laboratory protocols: one was a very strictly scheduled early meal schedule, while the other was the same meals scheduled roughly 4 hours later in the day. The patients kept a fixed sleep and wake schedule during the last two to three weeks before beginning each in-laboratory protocol. And for the final three days, the patients followed identical diets and scheduled meals at home before entering the lab.

Once in the lab, the patients documented their hunger and appetite, gave frequent small samples of blood throughout the day, and had their energy expenditure and body temperatures measured. To measure how the time of eating affected the molecular pathways involved in how the body stores fat, or adipogenesis, the investigators took biopsies of adipose from some of the patients throughout the laboratory testing, comparing the gene expression patterns/levels between both the early and late eating protocols.

The results showed that eating later significantly affected hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin, appetite-regulating hormones that influence our desire to eat. Levels of leptin (a hormone that signals satiety) were lower for the 24 hours in the later eating conditions as opposed to the earlier eating conditions. And when the patients ate later, they burned calories at a slower rate, exhibiting an increase in adipogenesis and a decrease in lipolysis, thus contributing to fat growth.

These recent findings are consistent with previous research on the correlation between late-night eating and increased risk of obesity while also providing the why of how when we eat can significantly impact appetite, how calories are burned, and how our bodies store fat.

While this study illustrates how late eating versus early eating affects hunger, energy expenditure, and the way our bodies store fat, future studies will aim to better understand how the relationship between mealtime and bedtime affects energy balance while taking into consideration how other behavioral and environmental variables also influence these biological pathways underlying obesity risk.

Sources: EurekAlert!

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Currently a Tissue Recovery Technician with a background in Exercise Science working on the side as a Writer with an interest in all things science.
You May Also Like
JAN 12, 2023
Neuroscience
The Link Between Parental Leave and Mental Well Being
The Link Between Parental Leave and Mental Well Being
Parental leave promotes better mental health, particularly among mothers. Researchers from the Department of Public Heal ...
JAN 17, 2023
Health & Medicine
Human and Neandertal Brains are Similar in their Capacity to Learn
Human and Neandertal Brains are Similar in their Capacity to Learn
A new study argues that the way the different parts of the brain in humans and Neandertals learn similarly.
JAN 24, 2023
Cardiology
5-Minute Walking Breaks Counter Negative Effects of Sitting
5-Minute Walking Breaks Counter Negative Effects of Sitting
Quick walking breaks during work could improve your cardiovascular health.
JAN 30, 2023
Neuroscience
Read a Map, Run, and Recall: How Orienteering can Fight Dementia
Read a Map, Run, and Recall: How Orienteering can Fight Dementia
McMaster University researchers have found that orienteering can prevent cognitive decline caused by dementia. The sport ...
FEB 02, 2023
Cardiology
Compound in Beetroot Juice Significantly Improves Muscle Force
Compound in Beetroot Juice Significantly Improves Muscle Force
Dietary nitrate, found in beets and other vegetables, has been shown to improve muscle force during exercise compared to ...
FEB 01, 2023
Plants & Animals
Squirrels who gamble might have better fitness
Squirrels who gamble might have better fitness
A new study finds that squirrels who have a larger litter do better in terms of reproductive fitness
Loading Comments...