Summary: The time of day you eat your food can have a significant impact on symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a new study.
Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Hitting the blue with food? A new study adds to the evidence that mealtime can affect mental health, including depression and anxiety-related mood swings. Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham Health Care System, designed a study that simulated night work and then tested the effects of daytime and nighttime eating versus daytime eating.
The group found that depression-like mood levels increased by 26 percent and anxiety-like levels increased by 16 percent among participants in the daytime and nighttime diet groups. Participants in the daytime-only diet group did not experience this increase, suggesting that meal timing influences emotional vulnerability.
Results are published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Our findings support meal timing as a novel strategy to reduce emotional vulnerability in individuals with circadian disruption, such as those who work shift work, experience jet lag, or suffer from circadian rhythm disorders,” the collaborators explained. Author Frank AJL Scheer, PhD, Director of Medical Chronobiology Program In Brigham’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders.
Future studies in shift workers and clinical populations are warranted to confirm whether changes in meal timing can protect against emotional vulnerability. In the meantime, our research brings a new ‘player’ to the table: the timing of food intake matters to our emotions.
Shift workers comprise up to 20 percent of the workforce in industrial unions and are directly responsible for many hospital services, factory operations, and other essential services. Shift workers often experience a mismatch between their central circadian clock in the brain and their daily behaviors such as sleep/wake and fasting/eating cycles. Importantly, they are 25 to 40 percent more likely to develop depression and anxiety.
“Shift workers — as well as individuals with circadian disruptions, including jet lag — may benefit from meal timing interventions,” said co-author Sarah L.
Chellappa is now at the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Cologne in Germany. “Our findings open the door to new sleep/circadian behavior strategies that may benefit individuals with mental health disorders. Our study adds to the evidence that strategies that improve sleep and circadian rhythms can improve mental health.”
To conduct the study, Sher, Chellappa, and colleagues enrolled 19 participants (12 men and 7 women) into a randomized controlled trial. Participants underwent four 28-hour “days” of forced desynchony with dim light, on the fourth “day” their behavioral cycle was reversed by 12 hours, simulating nighttime work and causing circadian disharmony.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of two meal timing groups: a day-and-night meal control group, with meals based on a 28-hour cycle (eating both at night and during the day, which is common among night workers), and a day-meal-only intervention group, on a 24-hour cycle. (eating only during the day).
The team assessed depression and anxiety-like emotions every hour.
The team found that meal times had a significant impact on participants’ mood levels. During the simulated night shift (day 4), those in the daytime and evening meal control groups had increased depression-like mood levels and anxiety-like levels compared to baseline (day 1). In contrast, there was no change in mood during the simulated night shift in the daytime meal intervention group. Participants with more circadian misalignment experienced more depression and anxiety-like feelings.
“Meal timing is emerging as an important aspect of diet that can affect physical health,” Chellappa said. However, the causal role of food intake timing on mental health remains to be tested. Future studies are needed if mealtime changes can help individuals with depression and anxiety/anxiety-related disorders.
Descriptions: Sher has served on the Board of Directors of the Sleep Research Association and has received consulting fees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Financial support This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (Citation numbers 101010269, R01dk150712, R01dk15771, R01dk15771 and the American Diabetes Association (#1-17) – PDF-103)
So nutrition and mental health research news
Author: Jessica Pastor
Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Contact: Jessica Pastore – Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Image: The image is in the public domain.
Preliminary study: Open Access.
“Eating during the day prevents emotional vulnerability during night work” by Frank AJL Scheer et al. PNAS
Eating during the day prevents emotional vulnerability during night work
Shift workers have a 25 to 40% higher risk of depression and anxiety, in part due to a mismatch between the central circadian clock and daily environmental/behavioral cycles, which may negatively impact mood and emotional well-being. Therefore, evidence-based circadian interventions are needed to prevent emotional vulnerability in shift workplaces.
We used a tightly controlled 14-d circadian paradigm to assess mood vulnerability during a consensual night shift compared with a day-and-night or day-only meal-synchronized daytime shift (baseline).
Night work during the day and eating at night increased depressive-like symptoms by 26.2 percent (PageAdjusted value using false discovery rates; PageFDR = 0.001; Output size R = 0.78) and anxiety-like mood ratings by 16.1% (PageFDR = 0.001; Output size R = 0.47) compared to the baseline, but this did not occur in the evening activities as in the day-only diet group.
Importantly, greater levels of endogenous circadian misalignment were strongly associated with greater depression (R = 0.77; P = 0.001) and anxiety-like (R = 0.67; P = 0.002) mood levels during simulated night work. These findings provide proof-of-concept for an evidence-based mealtime intervention that may prevent emotional vulnerability in shift workplaces.
Future studies are needed to determine whether changes in meal timing can prevent emotional vulnerability in night workers.