It turns out that when we eat may be as important as what we eat. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that regular eating times and extending the daily fasting period may override the adverse health effects of a high-fat diet and prevent obesity, diabetes and liver disease in mice.
In a paper published May 17 in Cell Metabolism, scientists from Salk's Regulatory Biology Laboratory reported that mice limited to eating during an 8-hour period are healthier than mice that eat freely throughout the day, regardless of the quality and content of their diet. The study sought to determine whether obesity and metabolic diseases result from a high-fat diet or from disruption of metabolic cycles.
"It's a dogma that a high-fat diet leads to obesity and that we should eat frequently when we are awake," says Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory and senior author of the paper. "Our findings, however, suggest that regular eating times and fasting for a significant number of hours a day might be beneficial to our health."
Panda's team fed two sets of mice, which shared the same genes, gender and age, a diet comprising 60 percent of its calories from fat (like eating potato chips and ice-cream for all your meals). One group of mice could eat whenever they wanted, consuming half their food at night (mice are primarily nocturnal) and nibbling throughout the rest of the day. The other group was restricted to eating for only eight hours every night; in essence, fasting for about 16 hours a day. Two control groups ate a standard diet comprising about 13 percent of calories from fat under similar conditions.
After 100 days, the mice who ate fatty food frequently throughout the day gained weight and developed high cholesterol, high blood glucose, liver damage and diminished motor control, while the mice in the time-restricted feeding group weighed 28 percent less and showed no adverse health effects despite consuming the same amount of calories from the same fatty food. Further, the time-restricted mice outperformed the ad lib eaters and those on a normal diet when given an exercise test.
The daily feeding-fasting cycle activates liver enzymes that breakdown cholesterol into bile acids, spurring the metabolism of brown fat -- a type of "good fat" in our body that converts extra calories to heat. Thus the body literally burns fat during fasting. The liver also shuts down glucose production for several hours, which helps lower blood glucose. The extra glucose that would have ended up in the blood -- high blood sugar is a hallmark of diabetes -- is instead used to build molecules that repair damaged cells and make new DNA. This helps prevent chronic inflammation, which has been implicated in the development of a number of diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's. Under the time-restricted feeding schedule studied by Panda's lab, such low-grade inflammation was also reduced.
"The take-home message," says Panda, "is that eating at regular times during the day and overnight fasting may prove to be beneficial, but, we will have to wait for human studies to prove this."
The good news, he adds, is that most successful human lifestyle interventions were first tested in mice, so he and his team are hopeful their findings will follow suit. If following a time-restricted eating schedule can prevent weight gain by 10 to 20 percent, it will be a simple and effective lifestyle intervention to contain the obesity epidemic.
Source: ScienceDaily (May 17, 2012)