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Is How Long You Sleep as Important as What You Eat?

A new study indicates that fasting for 13+ hours each night may lower cancer and disease risk.

It has long been recommended that, to maintain a healthy weight and especially when trying to reduce weight, we should eat a diet of healthy, whole foods and shouldn’t eat after a certain hour each evening – usually 7 p.m. However, recent research is adding to the potential impact of this best practice.

After examining data from mice indicating that a 16-hour nighttime fast protected them from the detrimental effects of a high-fat diet (including inflammation and weight gain), Dr. Ruth E. Patterson and her team at UC San Diego were inspired to analyze 11 years of data on breast cancer patients. The data, from 2,413 early-stage breast cancer patients, originated in the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study conducted for women ranging in age from 27 to 70.

The data analysis gleaned a fascinating conclusion: there is a correlation between eating before bedtime and cancer outcomes. Women who fasted fewer than 13 hours each night had a 36{61271d8c6ac8952d2b8e8075a7a6af9d50bcb6e72a1066f56e1f6f2e011a6b27} higher risk of breast cancer recurrence than women who didn’t eat for at least 13 hours each night. To put it another way: prolonging the fast between dinner and the next morning’s breakfast may improve your health. Fasting has also been associated with a decreased risk for other types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The study also examined the results from two-hour increments in fasting and found that each additional two hours of fasting was correlated with a longer night asleep, which is important in balancing circadian rhythms, a factor that impacts cancer and other chronic disease risk. Each two-hour increase in fasting time per night also reduced blood sugar and systemic inflammation, positive results that can help lower the occurrence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Despite this outcome, shorter nightly fasting was not associated with a higher risk from death either from breast cancer or another form of disease.

However, since regularly enjoying a good night’s sleep is associated with many positive health benefits, extending your “fast” between dinner and breakfast could be beneficial to overall health.

In the interest of full disclosure, the data in the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study was self-reported, so more tightly controlled experiments are warranted. However, fasting for at least 13 hours each night is a simple non-medical way to “potentially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other cancers.” It’s definitely worth considering!