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By Terri Bryce Reeves
What if you could lose weight and improve your health just by watching the clock? New research shows this is possible and more manageable for most than watching caloric intake.
Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have reported that a form of intermittent fasting, called “time-restricted eating,” improved the health of study participants who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that include at least five of the following conditions: obesity, high blood pressure, high serum triglycerides, high blood sugar, and low serum HDL, or high-density lipoprotein.
The syndrome increases the risk of adverse health issues such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. Three out of 10 Americans have the disorder.
Currently, doctors recommend that patients eat healthier, get more exercise, and take prescribed medications when needed. But these common remedies often prove insufficient to adequately manage risks.
“As a cardiologist, I find it is very hard to get patients with prediabetes or metabolic syndrome to make lasting and meaningful lifestyle changes,” said Pam Taub, M.D., co-corresponding author of the study, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Institute at UC San Diego Health.
“There is a critical window for intervention with metabolic syndrome. Once people become diabetic or are on multiple medications, such as insulin, it’s very hard to reverse the disease process.”
The pilot study, published online in the December 5, 2019 edition of Cell Metabolism, found that when participants restricted their eating to 10 hours or less over 12 weeks, they benefitted in a myriad of ways. They lost weight, reduced abdominal fat and waist circumference, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and experienced more stable blood sugar and insulin levels.
The practice is based on the idea that the body benefits when it is in sync with the its natural circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycles of biological processes that affect nearly every cell. Erratic eating patterns can disrupt this system and create metabolic syndrome.
“Metabolism is closely linked with circadian rhythms, and knowing this, we were able to develop an intervention to help patients with metabolic syndrome without decreasing calories or increasing physical exercise,” Taub said.
Satchin Panda, Ph.D., co-corresponding author and professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory, said time-restricted eating is a simple and effective dietary intervention, one where participants can easily adhere to the eating schedule.
“Eating and drinking everything (except water) during a 10-hour window allows your body to rest and restore for 14 hours at night. Your body can also anticipate when you will eat, so it can prepare the body to optimize metabolism,” he said.
The study involved 19 participants diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, with 16 taking at least one medication, such as a statin. Participants used an app created by Panda called “myCircadianClock” to keep track of eating behaviors. They were told they could decide what time to eat and how much to eat as long as all food consumption occurred within a 10-hour window.
At the end of the 12 weeks, participants averaged a 3 percent reduction in weight and body mass index (BMI) and a 4 percent reduction in abdominal/visceral fat. Many also experienced reductions in cholesterol, blood pressure, and improvements in fasting glucose. Seventy percent of participants reported improved sleep.
“Patients also reported that they generally had more energy, and some were able to have their medications lowered or stopped after completing the study,” said Taub.
The researchers are currently conducting another clinical trial to examine the benefits of time-restricted eating in a larger group of more than 100 participants with metabolic syndrome. The study examines additional measures that will help the researchers investigate changes in body composition and muscle function.
“Knowing how to optimize circadian rhythms could lead to a new treatment option for metabolic syndrome patients with life-altering diseases,” said Taub.