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TIME RESTRICTED EATING RECONFIGURES GENE EXPRESSION

Scientists show how time-restricted eating influences gene expression across more than 22 regions of the body and brain. The findings have implications for a wide range of health conditions where time-restricted eating has shown potential benefits, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer.

Numerous studies have shown health benefits of time-restricted eating including increase in life span. This research has made practices like "intermittent fasting" a hot topic in the wellness industry. However, exactly how it affects the body on the molecular level, and how those changes interact across multiple organ systems, has not been well understood.


Scientists have now shown how time-restricted eating influences gene expression across more than 22 regions of the body and brain. Gene expression is the process through which genes are activated and respond to their environment by creating proteins.


The findings, published in Cell Metabolism on January 3, 2023, have implications for a wide range of health conditions where time-restricted eating has shown potential benefits, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer.


The researchers found that there is a system-wide, molecular impact of time-restricted eating. Their results shed light on the importance of further investigation into how this nutritional intervention activates genes involved in specific diseases, such as cancer.


The authors found that 70 percent of genes respond to time-restricted eating.


By changing the timing of food, they were able to change the gene expression, not just in the gut or in the liver, but also in thousands of genes in the brain.


Nearly 40 percent of genes in the adrenal gland, hypothalamus, and pancreas were affected by time-restricted eating. These organs are important for hormonal regulation. Hormones coordinate functions in different parts of the body and brain, and hormonal imbalance is implicated in many diseases from diabetes to stress disorders. The results offer guidance to how time-restricted eating may help manage these diseases.


Interestingly, not all sections of the digestive tract were affected equally. While genes involved in the upper two portions of the small intestine (the duodenum and jejunum) were activated by time-restricted eating, the ileum, at the lower end of the small intestine, was not. This finding could open a new line of research to study how jobs with shiftwork, which disrupts our 24-hour biological clock (called the circadian rhythm) impact digestive diseases and cancers. Previous research by the same research team showed that time-restricted eating improved the health of firefighters, who are typically shift workers.


The researchers also found that time-restricted eating aligned the circadian rhythms of multiple organs of the body. Circadian rhythm patterns are ubiquitous throughout body cells. Time-restricted eating synchronized these rhythms to have two major "waves": one during fasting, and another just after eating. The hypothesis is that these waves allow the body to coordinate different processes simultaneously.


The research was supported by the National Institute of Health.

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