As the available research continues to pile, it has become clear that dementia is complex in terms of its potential cause. From reducing your intake of sugar to increasing physical activity levels, there are many modifiable lifestyle factors that can reduce your risk.
Diet is, of course, a significant variable in terms of neurological health — but what about eating times? According to a new study, eating at the same time each day may help combat neurodegenerative symptoms.
Study Finds — Eating Schedule May Improve Symptoms of Neurodegenerative Conditions
As published in eNeuro, while studying the effects of Huntington’s Disease, the researchers discovered that regular meals improved heart health, movement, and sleep quality. Studied in mice, researchers from The University of California believe that feeding schedules may influence treatment — and could potentially stave off key symptoms.
The ultimate goal is to improve quality of life for patients living with dementia-related conditions. Since circadian dysfunction is common among patients with Huntington’s, time-restricted feeding has become a key area of interest.
Carrying an inherited gene mutation, mice with Huntington’s were observed within this study. In comparison to healthy mice, these subjects showcase impaired thinking and uncontrollable body movements.
To study the effects of scheduled eating, when the mice were six months old, the researchers divided them into two groups. One group acted as the control group, whereas the other group began a 6-hour feeding and 18-hour fasting regimen. When the researchers restricted the daily feeding time, this led to improved sleep quality and overall brain function.
This design allowed one group of mice to feed during the middle of the day within a 6-hour period. This is when they are most active. In comparison, the control group was able to eat whenever they pleased. After three months of treatment, the restricted mice showed improvements in locomotor activity and sleep awakening time. Improved heart rate variability also improved, indicating a potential positive impact on autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
In summary: Regular, scheduled meals improved gene expression in the area of the brain responsible for body movements. These improved eating habits also benefited heart health and sleep quality.
The Benefits of Eating at the Same Time Each Day
Although this recent study was fairly specialized, it builds off of past research regarding the benefits of regular feeding times. Based on two papers published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, when you eat may have a significant affect on your health.
It is believed that irregular meals may increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension — regardless of the calories that are consumed. The first study, stated the importance of the circadian rhythm in regulating food intake and metabolism.
The second study, published in June 2016, found that consuming meals regularly for two weeks, in comparison to irregular meal patterns, impacted cardiometabolic risk factors. These include fasting total, peak insulin levels, and LDL cholesterol levels. This was seen among both obese and lean women.
Both of these papers, as well as the latest study discussed above, highlight the field known as chrononutrition. This area of research explores the connection between circadian rhythms and metabolism. It is believed that when we eat inconsistently, this affects our internal clock. This then disrupts sleep and increases one’s risk of health complications.
Circadian Rhythms and Alzheimer’s
Among Alzheimer’s patients, sleep disturbance is a common symptom — one that often proceeds cognitive dysfunction. It is believed that plaques may cause a disruption in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain. This area is known to maintain regular sleep patterns. However, this is only a theory at this time.
As this disease progresses, patients often experience insomnia, nighttime restlessness, and sundowning. Within one study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers studied 25 Alzheimer’s patients. What they found, was that this disease causes disturbances of circadian rhythms. More specifically, patients experience a phase delay of body temperature.
As reported in this study, numerous physiological processes that regulate body functions are influenced by circadian rhythms. These include heart rate, body temperature, hormone secretion, red blood cell production, and more. This isn’t surprising, as researchers found that while studying mice, 43 percent of all protein coding genes showed circadian rhythms.
Since as many as a quarter of all Alzheimer’s patients experience circadian rhythm disturbances, this will continue to be a key area of research. Some of the confounding variables that may offer insight, in relation to core body temperature, and in turn, circadian rhythms, include meals, light, social interaction, and even posture.
We will continue to cover the latest in research as new discoveries are made. Be sure to check out our informative blog to learn more about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.