Can time-restricted eating crack the diabetes epidemic?

ACU researcher Evelyn Parr will explore if delaying breakfast and consuming an early dinner – known as time-restricted eating – can improve the symptoms of lifestyle-related health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.

Research has shown time-restricted eating can reduce insulin resistance, inflammation and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, improve brain function and repair DNA.

Now, Dr Parr will investigate if the same method can stabilise blood sugars across the day to help improve long-term prospects for people with Type 2 diabetes.

She has been awarded a $59,990 grant from the Diabetes Australia Research Program for the next stage of her time-restricted eating study with people who have Type 2 diabetes. Dr Parr is one of 21 Victorian diabetes researchers to share the $1.26 million funding pool.

The six-month randomised controlled trial will look at the efficacy of time-restricted eating for improving glycaemic control in people with Type 2 diabetes.

It will build on her previous work that studied the effects providing meals in a time-restricted pattern had on daily glucose (blood sugar) and insulin concentrations.

Restricting the hours of eating – to say from 10am to 7pm – may help our metabolism function more effectively even without weight loss.

“We now want to study time-restricted eating in a population where glucose control is a daily concern,” Dr Parr said.

“With time-restricted feeding you eat over a shorter time window. We will test the effects of this on controlling blood sugars to see if changing the eating window can improve metabolic health to the same extent as changing total food intake.”

Dr Parr, an exercise and nutrition expert at ACU’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research said this approach gave the body a long break from food each night and reinforced beneficial circadian rhythms.

“We think timing of eating and the length of fasting could be quite important especially for people who may be consuming unhealthy foods and not moving a lot,” she said.

Dr Parr said our natural body clock is affected by sleeping patterns, temperature, physical activity, diet and when we eat. It is believed disruption to our body clocks – such as eating late - can be detrimental to health and contribute to diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Recent studies in mice found better metabolic profiles when the time of consuming food over a day was shorter.

“If someone eats until 10 pm or later and then has breakfast at 7am, they don’t have a long overnight fasting period,” she said. “The length of that period could be important in improving and regulating metabolism.

“The end of the day is when our body responds poorly to insulin – the hormone released from the pancreas in response to food. When we eat late, insulin doesn’t work as well, so we get exacerbated glucose responses to that food.”

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