Despite links between late eating and obesity risk, the precise mechanisms behind this correlation remain poorly understood.
Factors such as changes in hunger, appetite, energy expenditure, and even alterations in molecular pathways in adipose tissues may be involved.
In our recent randomized, controlled, crossover trial (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02298790), we examined the effects of late versus early eating, while rigorously controlling for nutrient intake, physical activity, sleep, and light exposure.
Hunger, Hormones, and Energy Expenditure
Our findings revealed that late eating significantly increased hunger levels (p < 0.0001) and modified appetite-regulating hormones.
We noted a rise in waketime and 24-hour ghrelin to leptin ratio (p < 0.0001 and p = 0.006, respectively) which are known to stimulate hunger and decrease satiety.
Furthermore, late eating also resulted in decreased waketime energy expenditure (p = 0.002) and a decrease in the 24-hour core body temperature (p = 0.019), factors which are indicative of a lower metabolic rate.
The Role of Adipose Tissue
When we delved into gene expression analyses of adipose tissue, we discovered that late eating altered pathways involved in lipid metabolism such as p38 MAPK signaling, TGF-β signaling, modulation of receptor tyrosine kinases, and autophagy.
The direction of these changes was consistent with decreased lipolysis (fat breakdown) and increased adipogenesis (fat cell creation).
Conclusions and Future Implications
These findings offer significant insights into how late eating could lead to a positive energy balance and increase obesity risk.
Both behavioral (increased hunger, altered hormone balance) and physiological (decreased energy expenditure, alterations in adipose tissue gene expression) mechanisms seem to be at play.
Further studies are needed to corroborate these findings and to understand how these insights might be used to create effective interventions for obesity management.
However, these findings already suggest a straightforward preventive approach—limiting late-night eating. The study was published in Cell Metabolism.
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