Eating All Your Food During a Specific Window of Time Could Help With Weight Loss, Better Sleep, Lower Blood Pressure

Eating during a specific window of time could help with weight loss, sleep, and high blood pressure, research suggests.

The small study involved 19 participants who had metabolic syndrome, characterized by a person having a number of conditions such as high blood pressure, high fasting glucose levels and obesity. The syndrome affects around 23 percent of adults, according to the American Heart Association, and raises the risk of a patient having conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and experiencing stroke.

To test the potential benefits of what is known as time-restricted eating, researchers asked the volunteers—13 men and six women—to eat all of their food in a 10-hour window of their choosing for 12 weeks.

The volunteers were told to eat and exercise as normal, and drink water whenever they pleased. Participants also used an app to track their calorie intake for two weeks before trying time-restricted eating and during the 12 weeks. Of the total, 16 participants were taking were taking a statin or blood pressure medicine.

Over the course of the 12 weeks, most participants found they ate breakfast around two hours after waking up, and ate dinner around two to three hours before going to bed, study co-author Professor Satchidananda Panda, of the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, told Newsweek.

At the end of the study, the patients on average saw a 3 to 4 percent drop across body weight, their body mass index, abdominal fat, and waist circumference. They also had lower blood pressure, lower levels of fats linked to cardiovascular disease, and slept better, overall. The subjects did not report any unwanted effects from the regime, like feeling sick.

Pam Taub, a cardiologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine who also co-authored the study, said some participants stopped their medications after the study was over.

"TRE [time-restricted eating] is a potentially powerful lifestyle intervention that can be added to standard medical practice to treat metabolic syndrome," the researchers said in their paper published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

However, they acknowledged time-restricted eating could have simply made the drugs people were taking work better.

In the journal, the researchers explained patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome are often told to make radical changes to their diet and lifestyle, including cutting down on calories, switching to a healthier diet, and exercising more. But if, for whatever reason, this does not work, patients are put on medication.

Evidence suggests eating at irregular times and throughout the day upsets our 24 hour biological clock, or circadian rhythm, which in turn could increase the risk of the conditions linked to metabolic syndrome, they said. So the team wanted see if eating during allotted times would make a difference to patients with the syndrome.

Panda explained his team had previously found "significant benefits" of 10-hour time-restricted eating in mice. The approach returned their blood glucose to a normal level, even when the animals were fed a diet known to exacerbate signs of diabetes.

Emily Manoogian, a postdoctoral fellow in Panda's lab who co-wrote the study, said in a statement that eating and drinking everything except water in a consistent 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 to optimize metabolism," she said.

Panda told Newsweek: "Most people with diabetes or a metabolic disease are usually on one or more medication after they try diet and exercise. So, the idea has been these people may not benefit from a behavior intervention.

"Our study showed that there is still room for health improvement beyond what medicines can offer.

"On a personal note, I have seen this approach has helped many of my family members reverse their early stage diabetes who have been controlling their blood glucose for four plus years without medication. So, we had a strong hunch that this approach might work in patients," he said.

The study also offered an insight into how easy the regime is to follow. Panda said the team didn't expect as many as 70 percent of the patients to stick with the method, with some continuing for at least a year after the study was complete—even though they were not required to do so.

However, Panda highlighted the research involved on a small number of patients, and a larger clinical study—which the team has already started— will shed more light on the potential of time-restricted eating.

Should the average person adopt this approach off the back of the research? Panda responded the average healthy person can try eating within 10 hours for at least six days out of seven.

"Those with some medical issues and taking medications, they should consult their physician," he advised, as doctors can regularly monitor their progress, adjust medication dosage and check if they are susceptible to hypoglycemia.

Time-restricted eating is sometimes referred to as a type of intermittent fasting. But Panda argued the method should not be considered a form of fasting.

"Fasting typically means a form of deprivation from food, feeling hungry and does not imply when and how long one should avoid food. I would connect it to circadian rhythm," he said, adding that the term "fasting" puts patients off an approach to eating which could improve their health.

Libby Dowling, senior clinical advisor at the charity Diabetes U.K., who did not work on the paper, told Newsweek: "While there's a lot of interest in the effects of intermittent fasting, research into its use in diabetes is still at a very early stage—as is this study.

"Since it is only looking [at] whether time restricted eating is feasible in people at risk of type 2 diabetes, not whether it's effective, we can't fully understand its potential benefits yet. Until we do, we can't make any assumptions about the real world implications," she said.

"However, if you're overweight or obese, losing weight is one of the most impactful ways to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. If responsible intermittent fasting helps you do that—great. It's important you find a way that works for you," she said.

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A stock image shows a woman eating pasta. Scientists believe eating in allotted windows of time could help treat metabolic syndrome. Getty