Previous research has found that a healthy, balanced diet can reduce your risk of cancer, but a study has revealed that the time you consume food can affect your health too.
Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that people who regularly eat after 9pm and don’t wait at least two hours before sleeping are 25 percent more likely to get cancer, compared to those who do.
As bedtime approaches, your metabolism should be winding down – not speeding up which occurs after eating. Late night dining can disrupt the body’s internal clock, called the circadian rhythm, which manages our sleep and wake cycle.
Researchers observed 621 cases of prostate cancer and 1,205 cases of breast cancer – looking at 872 male and 1,321 female participants who had never worked a night shift.
To collect data, they interviewed participants on the timing of meals, sleep and chronotype (the times they normally slept) and completed a food frequency questionnaire.
They found that people who slept two or more hours after dinner had a 20 percent reduced risk of breast and prostate cancer, both combined and in each cancer individually.
But when this was combined with eating late, their cancer risk increased by 25 percent in total.
Lead author of the study Doctor Manolis Kogevinas said: “Our study concludes that adherence to diurnal (daily) eating patterns is associated with a lower risk of cancer.
“These findings stress the importance of evaluating timing in studies on diet and cancer.”
Further research is required to understand the role timing of eating plays in shaping the risk of cancer. But existing evidence has suggested that a disrupted sleep pattern can increase cancer risk.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), disruption to the circadian rhythm alone can be a risk factor. Circadian disruption occurs when there is a change in sleep pattern – this includes a loss of sleep, difficulty falling asleep or waking up during the sleep cycle.
The 24-hour cycle tells our body when to sleep, eat and wake, and gets its cues largely from light.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which categorises cancer risk factors on a scale from cancer-causing (carcinogenic) to not carcinogenic to humans, states that night shift work alone is likely carcinogenic to humans.
Another way to reduce the risk of cancer, is to maintain a healthy weight and to quit smoking. As Cancer Research UK explains, harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke affect the entire body, not just our lungs.
“If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is quit.”