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San Diego Scientists Show How Late-Night Snacking Affects Heart Health

San Diego Scientists Show How Late-Night Snacking Affects Heart Health
Late-night snacking could be taking a toll on your heart. And according to a new study, that holds true even when keeping overall daily calories down.

Late-night snacking could be taking a toll on your heart. And according to a new study, that holds true even when keeping overall daily calories down.

For a paper published Thursday in Science, scientists studied fruit flies fed at different daily intervals.

"One group of flies had access to food 24/7, all the time," said San Diego State University biology professor Girish Melkani, one of study's senior authors. "The other group, we allowed them only to eat during daytime, 12 hours. During night time, they didn't eat."

The flies in each group consumed more or less equal calories, and they all got about the same amount of exercise. But after a few weeks, the flies on an unrestricted feeding schedule developed erratic heartbeats. They showed signs of cardiac aging not seen in the other group.

"The group that is only eating during daytime, their heart is healthy," said Melkani.

Wanting to know what drove heart deterioration in the second group, the researchers captured gene activity in the flies at multiple points throughout the experiment. They found that genes responsible for regulating the body's internal clock were able to do their job more smoothly when feeding was restricted to half the day.

Melkani said these findings all suggest, "What time we eat is as important as what we eat." The study was co-led by Satchin Panda of the Salk Institute in La Jolla.

He says this could explain why working odd hours - and thus, eating at odd hours - can produce negative health outcomes in workers who otherwise get decent exercise and eat a healthy diet.

More research needs to be done in humans, Melkani says. But he believes saving night time for rest instead of snacking might be a heart-healthy choice.

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