Meal Timing In Fatty Liver Disease

We know that eating too much is unhealthy, right?  WHAT and HOW much you eat is important.  We know that eating too much processed food, drinking soda, and abusing substances like alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is unhealthy.

Well, it seems that WHEN you eat is also important.

There is research suggesting, at least in fatty liver disease, WHEN you eat influences the development of disease.  What is the importance of meal timing in fatty liver disease?

First let’s review what fatty liver disease is.  As discussed at Mayo Clinic’s website, fatty liver disease is a poorly-understood condition where the liver cells have droplets of fat present inside them.  Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is one of the most common liver conditions in the world, and is unfortunately getting more common.  It is linked to diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and the Metabolic Syndrome.  We don’t know for sure what causes it and don’t really have good treatments for it.

Scientists are furiously researching this increasingly common problem to try to identify causes and effective treatments.

Recently at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases annual meeting, a study was reported that suggested WHEN we eat influences the development of fatty liver disease.

It was found that skipping breakfast and lunch increased the risk of fatty liver disease by 20% and 73% respectively.  Eating between 10 PM and 4 AM increased the risk of fatty liver disease by 61%.  Eating more of the day’s calories in the morning decreased the risk of fatty liver disease by up to 21%.  Researchers adjusted for total calorie intake, age, gender, alcohol use and taking medications that are hard on the liver.

What recommendations can we give people based on this research?  These findings really reinforce the common-sense recommendations we give people all the time.

  • Eat breakfast every day
  • Eat lunch every day
  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime

What about shift workers?  What about my nurses and others that work the night shift?  It doesn’t seem to matter what time you are awake.  The liver has its own circadian rhythm and it seems that eating in the middle of the night is bad for your liver no matter when you sleep.

Since we know that night-shift workers are at higher risk for obesity and other health problems than those who work and are active during the day, this may be one way to reduce the health risks associated with night shift work. Keeping the calorie intake mirroring how day-shift workers eat may help to mitigate the risks for night shift workers.

For instance, one could eat a large “breakfast” when coming off-shift, a medium-sized “lunch” prior to sleep, a small “dinner” before heading to work, and avoid eating in the middle of the night while working.

Since we don’t have effective treatments for fatty liver disease, the main focus right now is on prevention.  Fatty liver disease is considered a “lifestyle” problem.  The main interventions are lifestyle changes like diet change, avoiding alcohol, and weight loss.

Do you already have fatty liver disease?  In addition to eating healthy and limiting calorie intake, making sure you eat breakfast and lunch daily and avoid eating too late can help make a difference in your liver’s health.

You only get one liver and replacement parts are hard to come by.  Changing when you eat is a fairly simple intervention that seems to be powerful in preventing the damage of fatty liver disease.

QUESTION:  Do you eat breakfast and lunch?  If not, do you think you’ll change your eating patterns based on this research?

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