Not only what you eat but when you eat can treat metabolic syndrome. Eating only during a 10-hour period may prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes, too.
Intermittent fasting, which refers to eating only during a certain part of the day or not eating at all on certain days, has been gaining in popularity with dieters. Restricting late-night eating and giving up snacking throughout the day has been shown to help with weight loss. Scientists have documented another advantage of skipping food for many hours: When you eat can treat metabolic syndrome.
A Salk Institute and University of California (UC) at San Diego research team found eating only during 10 hours of the day — but not eating at all the rest of the day and night — can treat metabolic syndrome. This time-restricting eating style may also help prevent other chronic and serious diseases.
Why finding a new metabolic syndrome treatment is important
The condition is diagnosed if you have three or more of these risk factors, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains:
- Abdominal obesity (excess fat in the stomach area)
- High triglycerides, a type fat in the blood linked to heart disease
- Low high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the “good” cholesterol (low levels raise heart disease risk)
- High blood pressure
- High or borderline-high fasting blood sugar
Metabolic syndrome is a serious problem because it greatly increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. It’s very common in the U.S., where about 34 percent of adults have the condition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
- Weight loss (especially reducing abdominal fat)
- Taking prescription drugs for hypertension and high blood sugar (if needed, for type 2 diabetes)
- Frequent checks of blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels
Yet there’s no easy fix for metabolic syndrome and, considering the epidemic of obesity and excess weight in the U.S., dropping extra pounds is not easy. Even adding medication to lifestyle interventions frequently fails to manage the condition, according to Salk Institute regulatory biology professor Satchidananda Panda, PhD.
That’s why Panda and his colleague’s research, which shows that when you eat can treat metabolic syndrome, provides evidence time-restricted eating can potentially be a significant therapy for the condition.
How when you eat impacts metabolic syndrome
The Salk and UC San Diego team conducted a pilot study of metabolic syndrome patients who were placed on a time-restricted eating plan for about three months. The volunteers ate only during a 10-hour period each day, and they continued their regular medications, if needed.
The results, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, showed a significant improvement in signs of metabolic syndrome, including weight loss, lower levels of “bad “cholesterol, reduced abdominal fat, lower blood pressure, and more stable blood sugar. The study participants also reported they slept better.
Most of the volunteers delayed their first meal and advanced the time of their last meal daily, so they didn’t skip meals. The only difference was they ate during a 10-hour period and nothing the rest of the day or night. Although research subjects were not put on a restricted calorie diet, overall, they had a three-to-four percent reduction in weight, abdominal fat, waist size, and BMI (body mass index, a measurement that indicates fat levels in your body).
"We have found that combining time-restricted eating with medications can give metabolic syndrome patients the ability to better manage their disease," said Panda. "Unlike counting calories, time-restricted eating is a simple dietary intervention to incorporate, and we found that participants were able to keep the eating schedule."
While it appears some of the participants ate less, there was likely another important reason for the weight loss and other reductions in signs of metabolic syndrome. Restricting all calories you take in to a consistent, 10-hour window supports your individual circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycles of biological processes that affect nearly every cell in your body. That can maximize health benefits of fasting for part of the day, according to previous research by Panda and his fellow researchers.
In fact, research is mounting that shows erratic eating patterns disrupt natural circadian rhythms, raising the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, metabolic syndrome, and other metabolic disorders.
"Adapting this 10-hour time-restricted eating is an easy and cost-effective method for reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome and improving health," Panda said. "By delaying the onset of diabetes by even one year in a million people with prediabetes, the intervention could save roughly 9.6 billion dollars in healthcare costs.”
June 21, 2023