Eating in a 10-hour window may reduce the health damage of shift work

Eating in a 10-hour window may reduce the health damage of shift work

The 24-hour firefighters who only ate between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. saw improvements in heart health, blood sugar, and blood pressure.


4 October 2022

Firefighters and other shift workers can benefit from time-restricted eating

Angie Sharp / Alami Stock

Eating within the same 10-hour time frame each day may counteract the health consequences of shift work, such as an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Shift work disrupts circadian rhythms, the 24-hour sleep-wake cycles that also control the activity of various organs. Eating can regulate these rhythms. To see if changing what and when people eat can reverse the harms of shift work, satchidananda panda At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, his colleagues studied firefighters who work 24-hour shifts.

They advised 137 firefighters in San Diego, California, to spend 12 weeks following a Mediterranean diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and low in red meat and sugar. They asked 70 to eat in the same 10-hour time frame each day and another 67 to eat whenever they wanted. Before the study, the groups had no significant health differences, and more than 70 percent of participants had at least one risk factor for heart or metabolic disease such as high blood pressure or obesity.

Participants recorded when they ate using a smartphone app and answered surveys about sleep and well-being before and after the study. The researchers also collected blood samples and tracked the participants’ weight. Firefighters in the time-restricted eating group experienced greater improvements in health after 12 weeks compared to the control group. The biggest improvement was in the size of harmful cholesterol particles known as low-density lipoproteins, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. On average, the size of these particles decreased by about 3 percent in the time-restricted eating group compared to a 0.5 percent decrease in the control group.

“This is very important because the leading cause of death or disability for firefighters is cardiovascular disease,” says Banda.

The firefighters on the time-limited diet also had, on average, slightly greater reductions in weight, diastolic blood pressure, alcohol consumption, calorie intake, and sleep disturbances. The time-restricted diet also led to greater reductions in blood pressure and blood sugar among firefighters with elevated levels of these markers to begin with.

“If the firefighters eat a Mediterranean diet, that’s fine, but if they combine the diet with time-restricted eating, that’s even better,” says Panda. Eating helps determine when organs perform certain functions. The stomach, for example, normally digests food during the day and repairs itself at night but cannot perform these functions simultaneously. A consistent schedule for daytime eating, he adds, reinforces this pattern, ensuring that different organs have time to repair themselves.

A time-restricted diet can also help prevent health problems related to working shifts, previous research has shown. Reduces the rates of diseases such as diabetes In rats that suffered from circulatory arrhythmia and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.

However, it is not clear from the current study whether the diet is feasible in the long term Jingyi Qian at Harvard University in Massachusetts. “If we want to get consistent benefits for shift workers, we need to see if they can stick to this intervention for a year or even longer,” she says.

Journal reference: cell metabolismAnd the doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2022.08.018

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