Cancer: Regularly eating late and not leaving two hours before sleeping may increase risk

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Research has demonstrated that diet can influence your risk of cancer but less attention has been devoted to the timing of eating. A study led by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health sheds light on the latter. Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found that those who routinely eat after 9pm and don’t leave two hours after food before they sleep are 25 percent more likely to get the cancer than those who do.

The researchers attribute this effect to the havoc late night dining can wreak upon your body.

If your body clock is ticking along how it should, your metabolism should be winding down to go to sleep and not speeding up as it does after eating.

Hormones underpin sleep, hunger and stress, so when these processes go awry, your body’s circadian rhythms (internal clock) also risk disruption.

How researchers gathered their findings

Researchers assessed 621 cases of prostate and 1,205 of breast cancers, looking at 872 male and 1,321 female subjects who had never worked a night shift.

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They were interviewed on the timing of meals, sleep and chronotype (the times they normally slept) and completed a food frequency questionnaire.

Those sleeping two or more hours after supper had a 20 percent reduction in cancer risk for breast and prostate cancer combined and in each cancer individually.

When that was combined with eating late, the 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.”

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More research is needed to understand the role timing of eating plays in shaping the risk of cancer.

However, a convincing body of evidence suggests a disrupted sleep pattern increases the risk of cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that circadian disruption alone is a risk factor for cancer.

“Circadian disruption” is defined as any change in sleep pattern, whether it is loss of sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or waking up during the sleep cycle.

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The body’s central clock is found in the brain and gets its cues largely from light.

Presence of light tells our bodies that it is time to be awake, alert, and hungry.

The body sets its clock on a 24-hour cycle (based on how much light it senses) and each organ system follows.

Our circadian rhythm controls when we wake up, our appetite, our body temperature, and our mood.

What’s more, 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.

Research also shows that things such as stopping smoking and keeping a healthy weight can reduce the risk of cancer.

Not smoking is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.

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.”

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