Daytime meals can protect blood sugar in night shift workers

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In a new study from the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that eating during the nighttime—as many shift workers do—can increase glucose levels.

But eating only during the daytime might prevent the higher glucose levels now linked with nocturnal work life.

The findings could lead to novel interventions aimed at improving the health of shift workers—grocery stockers, hotel workers, truck drivers, first responders, and others—who past studies show may be at an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

In the study, the team tested 19 healthy young participants (seven women and 12 men).

The participants were assigned to a 14-day controlled laboratory protocol involving simulated night work conditions with one of two meal schedules.

One group ate during the nighttime to mimic a meal schedule typical among night workers, and one group ate during the daytime.

The researchers found that nighttime eating boosted blood sugar levels—a risk factor for diabetes—while restricting meals to the daytime prevented this effect.

Specifically, average glucose levels for those who ate at night increased by 6.4% during the simulated night work, while those who ate during the daytime showed no big increases.

The researchers said that the mechanisms behind the observed effects are complex.

They believe that the nighttime eating effects on glucose levels during simulated night work are caused by circadian misalignment.

That corresponds to the mistiming between the central circadian “clock” (located in the brain’s hypothalamus) and behavioral sleep/wake, light/dark, and fasting/eating cycles, which can influence peripheral “clocks” throughout the body.

The current study shows that, in particular, mistiming of the central circadian clock with the fasting/eating cycles plays a key role in boosting glucose levels.

The work further suggests the beneficial effects of daytime eating on glucose levels during simulated night work may be driven by a better alignment between these central and peripheral “clocks.”

If you care about blood sugar, please read studies about this common fruit that may help reduce your blood sugar after a meal and findings that this popular drink may help control diabetes, lower blood sugar.

For more information about wellness, please see recent studies about this common eating habit that may lead to high blood sugar, weight gain and results showing that drink coffee after breakfast, not before, for better blood sugar control.

The study is published in Science Advances. One author of the study is Marishka Brown, Ph.D.

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