Late-Night Meals May Take A Toll On Heart Health, New Study Reveals

Late Night Snacker
Mike Focus / Shutterstock

A recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions annual meeting suggests that late-night eating may increase risk for heart disease, according to Live Science.

Cultural changes amid the U.S. workforce have led to many Americans going to bed later at night and sleeping fewer hours at night, causing many to eat more during the nighttime hours. The research team sought to discover if this shift in meal timing may be a factor in rising rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes among Americans.

Using a database called the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the researchers were able to access information on over 12,000 adults aged 18 to 76. Using the self-reporting of eating habits by subjects in the study, the team then compared their answers to measurements such as blood pressure and blood sugar. The researchers found that over half the people in the study consumed 30 percent or more of their daily caloric intake after 6 p.m., which correlated with higher levels of fasting blood sugar, higher insulin levels, and higher HOMA-IR (all three of which are indicators for risk of diabetes.) Additionally, this subgroup was found to have higher average blood pressure than the group of subjects who consumed less than 30 percent of their daily calories after 6 p.m.

Image Credit: udra11/Shutterstock. udra11 / Shutterstock

The research team found that the late-eating group was 19 percent more likely to develop prediabetes, a condition which leads to Type 2 diabetes 70 percent of the time. The late-eating group was also 23 percent more likely to develop hypertension, especially among women.

Though the study only focused on one specific population group, the researchers expect to see the same correlations in other populations. Several other studies have confirmed that meal timing has an association with risk factors for heart disease, according to another Live Science article.

The researchers believe that the problems can occur because our body clocks are synched with our environment. A part of our brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus uses external lighting cues (namely the sun) to set our body clock in almost every cell in our body, telling us when to wake up, eat, and sleep. “These clocks are regulated by bright-light exposure but also by behaviors, particularly food signals,” said Nour Makarem, a postdoctoral fellow in cardiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, who led the study. “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.”