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Optimal Meal Timing: A Comprehensive Look at Late Dinners and Cardiovascular Health

Dr. Craig Smith, MD

4 Min read

In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, we often scrutinize our dietary habits, and emerging research suggests that meal timing may play a crucial role in cardiovascular health. A recent study conducted in France, examining the eating patterns of over 100,000 individuals, revealed compelling insights into the potential risks associated with having dinner after 9 pm.

The study, documented in the esteemed journal Nature Communications, meticulously analyzed the food diaries of participants, tracking the times of their meals on both weekdays and weekends. The findings unveiled a noteworthy correlation between late-night dining and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, particularly strokes and mini-strokes, also known as transient ischemic attacks.

Participants who consumed their dinners after 9 pm exhibited a significant 28% higher likelihood of experiencing a stroke or mini-stroke compared to those who dined before 8 pm. The researchers delved into a seven-year follow-up period, during which approximately 2,000 cases of cardiovascular diseases, encompassing heart attacks and strokes, were reported.

The study not only spotlighted the impact of dinner timing but also scrutinized breakfast habits. For every hour later an individual had dinner, their odds of suffering a stroke or mini-stroke increased by eight percent. Likewise, a delayed breakfast was associated with a six percent elevated risk of various cardiovascular diseases. Interestingly, this correlation was predominantly observed in women, constituting nearly 80% of the study's volunteers.

Dr. Bernard Srour, the senior author of the study from the University of Sorbonne Paris Nord, emphasized the evolutionary aspect of meal timing, pointing out that humans have adapted to consuming meals earlier in the day. Citing evidence from animal studies, he suggested that digesting food later might elevate blood sugar and blood pressure levels. The potential consequence of increased blood pressure in the evening, normally a period of lower pressure, could lead to long-term damage to blood vessels and a heightened risk of blood clots, ultimately contributing to strokes and heart attacks.

While the study did not find a direct association between dinner timing and coronary heart problems, it did reveal that for every hour later someone had breakfast, there was an 11% increased risk of such issues for men. However, caution is warranted in interpreting this result, as the study had a limited number of male participants, potentially influencing statistical significance.

Intriguingly, the research highlighted the positive impact of a prolonged overnight fasting period on cardiovascular health. Every additional hour of overnight fasting was linked to a seven percent reduced risk of strokes or mini-strokes. Notably, this benefit was more pronounced among those who opted for early dinners, fasting for extended periods before breakfast.

In conclusion, the study sheds light on the potential health implications of our meal timing choices, suggesting that late dinners, especially after 9 pm, may pose an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, particularly strokes. As our fast-paced, 24/7 society prompts many to dine later, Dr. Srour advises reconsidering such habits, particularly for those who believe they are too busy to eat earlier. While further research is needed to solidify these findings, this study underscores the intricate relationship between meal timing and our cardiovascular well-being.

About the Author

In 1984, Dr. Craig Smith founded Lifesource. As a coach, he's worked with world-class athletes and guided thousands towards successful weight loss. Driven by a desire to elevate his understanding of the human body, he returned to the rigors of medical school in his 50s, achieving his goal of becoming a physician at 56. Now in his 60s, Dr. Smith leads by personal example, continuing to inspire, educate and empower individuals from all walks of life to achieve their health and fitness goals. If you wish to train and diet online with Dr. Smith, hear his message and schedule a 45-minute consultation on the New You page.