Time-Restricted Eating may help Boost Metabolic Health in Shift Workers

February 2, 2023

Summary: One-third of people are shift workers in the US. These individuals are at significant risk of metabolic disorders due to high stress and disruptions in circadian rhythm. A new study shows that time-restricted eating, like eating within a window period of 10 hours a day may help significantly improve metabolic health.

It appears that a simple measure of time-restricted eating may boost metabolic health significantly. Studies suggest that about one-third of people in the US are shift workers. However, these are also people prone to high stress and metabolic disorders.

Issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance are all relatively common in shift workers. However, most clinical trials exclude this population group from studies. Therefore, researchers from the Salk Institute and UC San Diego Health decided to study this specific population group.

For the purpose of the study, they selected firefighters. Restricted eating is when a person can eat as usual for a specific number of hours a day. For example, firefighters in this study were allowed to eat during a 10-hours window. It did not involve dieting or skipping meals. Thus, this kind of intervention is relatively easy to implement and does not require much learning. All one has to do is eat food during the 10-hour window instead of the 14-16 hours window when most people are awake. The results of the study were published in the journal Cell metabolism. Researchers chose firefighters as they often work in shifts like military or healthcare personnel.

Researchers said that they wanted to find the efficacy of a relatively simple intervention. Most doctors tend to consider different pills for managing health conditions. However, there is no magic pill in the world, and medications often fail to help with metabolic disorders. However, restricted eating is quite simple.

Studies show that shift workers are particularly at risk of metabolic disorders due to high-stress levels. The human body has its internal clock called circadian rhythm, which dictates when people should eat, rest, and so on. However, in shift workers, the circadian rhythm is disrupted, causing changes in blood pressure, muscle function, and more. It explains why this population group is particularly at risk of metabolic disorders.

The study was simple, including 150 firefighters randomly allotted to two groups. One group continued to eat as usual. However, the second group has to eat all their food within a 10-hours window. These were people living with metabolic health issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, pancreatic pain and other issues. However, it also included normal individuals. The other group that continued to eat as usual acted as a control group.

The researchers found that those on a time-restricted diet benefited significantly. Thus, this simple measure resulted in a significant decline in VLDL cholesterol levels. It also improved their mental health and well-being and helped reduce alcohol intake.

Those on a time-restricted diet also had significantly improved blood pressure, reduced insulin resistance, and improved blood sugar levels. Thus, a time-restricted diet can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other chronic health disorders.

The study found that a simple measure like a time-restricted diet could effectively improve metabolic health in shift workers. In addition, researchers say that many people can benefit from such health measures, like healthcare workers and even new parents.

The study’s findings were eye-opening, as the benefits were beyond expectations. To sum up, it is possible to prevent metabolic disorders and even reverse them in their early stages through simple lifestyle interventions like dietary measures and time-restricted eating. Time-restricted eating is good because it is simple to practice and does not require much learning. Moreover, eating for 10 hours is relatively easy for most people.

The Bottom Line

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By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP