Midnight Snacks May Increase Risk For Breast Cancer Recurrence: Why Fasting Counts


Beware of your midnight snacking habit and start thinking about doing a better job at overnight fasting. Breast cancer patients who are fond of eating in between dinner and breakfast may be at a higher risk of a recurrence, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego followed more than 2,400 early-stage breast cancer survivors and found that a short overnight fast of less than 13 hours tied up to a 36 percent higher risk of breast cancer returning, as well as a 21 percent higher death risk from the condition than others who fasted longer every night.

Timing Of Meals

Lead study author Catherine Marinac emphasized the role of timing one’s meals in cancer prevention, as this appears to influence metabolic health.

Apart from associating a shorter overnight fast with increased chances of disease recurrence, the researchers saw that fasting fewer hours every night was linked to significantly less sleep as well as higher levels of HbA1C, a marker of average blood sugar levels, over a number of months.

These results are deemed consequential to cancer prevention and control, as poor sleep and elevated HbA1c have previously been connected with increased breast cancer risk. An April 2015 study, for instance, saw worse control of blood sugar alongside shorter overnight fasting.

The researchers pushed for randomized trials testing to find out whether an extended overnight fast could actually reduce the risk of chronic illness, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease.

The Fasting Technique

Fasting has become a growing concept in health and disease prevention, with diet programs such as intermittent fasting – eating normally five days a week and fasting the other two days – gaining popularity, including among celebrities.

And there could be some merit to avoiding food for hours or even days at a time.

“Most people are putting something in their mouths essentially every waking hour. But from an evolutionary perspective that’s not how people or animals are genetically geared to eat,” explains neuroscientist Mark Mattson.

This strategy is seen to provide benefits not just in the weight loss department, but also in brain function. According to Mattson, they have seen rats who maintained alternate-day fasting maintain brain neurons that resist the damage seen in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke.

Those who researcher about fasting also say that the metabolic benefits extend the longer one goes without food – assuming the evils of eating all day long every single day.

Further Investigation

Experts welcomed the breast cancer study’s findings, but encouraged further research.

“Much more research is needed to confirm this ... What we do know is that women can reduce the risk of their breast cancer coming back by maintaining a healthy weight,” says Dr. Richard Berks of Breast Cancer Now in the United Kingdom.

For Dr. Joanne Mortimer of City of Hope’s Women’s Cancer Program in California, the team made an interesting observation that needs to be studied more.

Sleep, diet, and weight management are all related, she added, with people who fast and get good sleep less likely to develop metabolic syndrome or a cluster of conditions that up risks for chronic disease.

The findings were published March 31 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology.

Photo: Erich Ferdinand | Flickr

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