Having evening meals at least two hours before going to bed could reduce the risk of developing breast of prostate cancer, a new study suggests.
Research from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has shown that people who ate their dinner before 9pm or waited two hours after eating before going to sleep were found to have a 20% lower risk of those types of cancer compared to those who ate after 10pm or close to bedtime.
The study is the first to look at the link between the risk of cancer and meal times.
The researchers say their findings could have implications for advice on cancer prevention.
Manolis Kogevinas, ISGlobal researcher and lead author of the study, said: “Our study concludes that adherence to diurnal eating patterns is associated with a lower risk of cancer.
“[The findings] highlight the importance of assessing circadian rhythms in studies on diet and cancer.
“The impact could be especially important in cultures such as those of southern Europe, where people have supper late.”
According to the researchers, the aim of the study was to assess whether meal times could be associated with the risk of the two of the most common cancers – breast and prostate cancer.
Both types of cancers have been found to be strongly associated with night-shift work and disruption of sleep patterns.
The team assessed participants’ lifestyles and made note of their chronotypes (ie, whether they are a morning person or an evening person).
They surveyed 1,205 breast cancer and 621 patients, as well as more than 2,000 people unaffected by the disease.
The participants, based in Spain, were interviewed about their meal timings, food and sleep habits and chronotype.
The researchers say that experimental studies on animals have shown meal times to have “profound implications for food metabolism and health”.
Dora Romaguera, ISGlobal researcher and one of the study authors, added: “Further research in humans is needed in order to understand the reasons behind these findings, but everything seems to indicate that the timing of sleep affects our capacity to metabolise food.”
The research is published in the International Journal of Cancer.