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October 11, 2013

Meal times can predict illness, say researchers

What time you eat dinner may be just as important to your health as whether you eat a cheeseburger or salad, according to scientists who study digestion and health.

Biological rhythms are controlled by various body "clocks" that usually work together but can be thrown out of sync by off-schedule meals, researchers say. People who dine when their bodies are inclined toward rest or sleep are more prone to ailments such as colitis, Chron's disease or colon cancer.

Those at most risk include people who work at night, international travelers, and others active during late hours. Night-shift nurses, for example, are among those shown to have higher rates of gastrointestinal illness.

"The biological clock doesn't match our modern lifestyles," says Vincent Cassone, chairman of the biology department at the University of Kentucky.

Cassone, who studies the internal timekeeping of animals, is now focused on how aging affects people's internal clocks and digestion. His study is funded by a $1 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Cassone noted eating patterns are related to rates of gastrointestinal illness, including cancer.

The body has various internal mechanisms that control cycles of activity, rest and eating, he explained. These include a central "clock" in the brain - in the suprachiasmatic nucleus - as well as circadian clocks governing specific organs and tissues.

These systems usually work in tandem but can be thrown out of sync when someone eats a meal, for example, when the internal clock in the brain is timed for rest and restoration.

This happens even to those accustomed to working the night shift.

Details for this story were provided by Allison Elliott-Shannon, a senior information specialist at the University of Kentucky, and KyForward.com.

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