Previous studies have shown that getting enough sleep is important to prevent increasing the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases, but a new research shows that a proper eating schedule is also essential.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania discovered that people who constantly delay eating and have meals later in the day are jeopardizing their health and have increased risks of chronic health issues.

"Eating later can promote a negative profile of weight, energy, and hormone markers—such as higher glucose and insulin, which are implicated in diabetes, and cholesterol and triglycerides, which are linked with cardiovascular problems and other health conditions," study lead author Dr. Namni Goel said.

According to the study, people who eat late at night not only gain weight faster, their bodies also metabolized more carbohydrates and less fat, and increased cholesterol and insulin levels, even with enough sleep. Such results would still put the people at risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other metabolic conditions.

Eating Early vs. Eating Late

The researchers monitored nine healthy adults for a period of eight weeks in order to determine how a person's eating schedule affects their health. For the first eight weeks, the nine participants followed an 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. "daytime eating" schedule wherein they are allowed to eat three meals and two snacks before a two-week washout period. Afterward, the participants followed a 12 noon to 11:00 p.m. "delayed eating" schedule, also with three meals and two snacks.

All participants followed an 11:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. sleep schedule.

What the researchers found was that the participants gained weight when they ate later in the day than when they had early meals. A 24-hour hormonal profile also revealed that daytime snackers have an earlier ghrelin peak and later leptin peak. This is important because the hormone ghrelin stimulates a person's appetite while leptin keeps the appetite sated, which means daytime snackers get hungry earlier but are satisfied for longer periods.

Of course, if ghrelin stimulates a person's appetite later, this could lead to late night snacking and overeating.

The researchers suggest that changing eating behavior and considering an earlier schedule could be helpful in the fight against preventable chronic diseases.

"While lifestyle change is never easy, these findings suggest that eating earlier in the day may be worth the effort to help prevent these detrimental chronic health effects," senior author Dr. Kelly Allison said.

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