Eating meals early could reduce cardiovascular risk

- FR- EN

A study led by scientists from INRAE, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Inserm, and the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, has revealed that the time at which we eat could influence our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This study, carried out on a sample of over 100,000 people from the NutriNet-Santé cohort, followed between 2009 and 2022, suggests that eating a late first or last meal is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. It also appears that a longer night-time fasting duration is associated with a reduced risk of cerebrovascular disease such as stroke. The findings, published in Nature Communications , suggest the importance of daily meal timing and rhythm in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the world according to the Global Burden of Disease study, with 18.6 million annual deaths in 2019, of which around 7.9 are attributable to diet. This means that diet plays a major role in the development and progression of these diseases. The modern lifestyle of Western societies has led to specific eating habits such as eating dinner late or skipping breakfast. In addition to light, the daily cycle of food intake (meals, snacks, etc.) alternating with periods of fasting synchronizes the peripheral clocks, or circadian rhythms, of the body’s various organs, thus influencing cardiometabolic functions such as blood pressure regulation. Chrononutrition is emerging as an important new field for understanding the relationship between the timing of food intake, circadian rhythms and health.

Scientists used data from 103,389 participants in the NutriNet-Santé cohort (79% of whom were women, with an average age of 42) to study the associations between food intake patterns and cardiovascular disease. To reduce the risk of possible bias, the researchers accounted for a large number of confounding factors, especially sociodemographic factors (age, sex, family situation, etc.), diet nutritional quality, lifestyle and sleep cycle.

The results show that having a first meal later in the day (such as when skipping breakfast), is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, with a 6% increase in risk per hour delay. For example, a person who eats for the first time at 9 a.m. is 6% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than someone who eats at 8 a.m. When it comes to the last meal of the day, eating late (after 9 p.m.) is associated with a 28% increase in the risk of cerebrovascular disease such as stroke compared with eating before 8 p.m., particularly in women. Finally, a longer duration of night-time fasting - the time between the last meal of the day and the first meal of the following day - is associated with a reduced risk of cerebrovascular disease, supporting the idea of eating one’s first and last meals earlier in the day.

These findings, which need to be replicated in other cohorts and through additional scientific studies with different designs, highlight a potential role for meal timing in preventing cardiovascular disease. They suggest that adopting the habit of eating earlier first and last meals with a longer period of night-time fasting could help to prevent the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The NutriNet-Santé study is a public health study coordinated by the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN-CRESS, Inserm/INRAE/Cnam/Université Sorbonne Paris Nord/Université Paris Cité), which, thanks to the commitment and support of over 175,000 study participants, is advancing research into the links between nutrition (diet, physical activity, nutritional status) and health. The study was launched in 2009 and has already resulted in over 270 international scientific publications. There is still a call for new study participants living in France to continue advancing research into the relationship between nutrition and health.

By spending a few minutes a month responding via the secure online platform, participants help to advance knowledge of the relationship between diet and health.