Eating within a restricted time window during the day may help improve shift workers’ health.
A study by the University of California and The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego found that time-restricted eating, within a 10-hour window, helped reduced “bad” cholesterol and blood pressure among firefighters who work 24-hour shifts.
Previous studies have shown that shift workers who are frequently subjected to “erratic” light-dark environments, sleep activity and eating-fasting patterns, which can disrupt their circadian rhythms.
Shift work can also increase the risk of cardiometobolic diseases, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, infection and autoimmune diseases.
Shift workers’ health
The study, published in the Cell Metabolism journal, involved 150 firefighters from the San Diego fire and rescue department. Seventy-one per cent already had at least one cardiometabolic risk factor such as high BMI, high blood pressure, elevated low-density lipoprotein, low high-density lipoprotein or high cholesterol.
They were split into two groups and advised to eat a Mediterranean diet. One group was advised to select a 10-hour eating window that best suited their work and social life. This cohort chose to eat during the day and fast overnight, even though they were on 24-hour shifts. The other group was told to maintain a long eating window of 13.35 hours.
Both groups were told to track everything they ate, and when, for three months.
The group that ate within the strict timeframe saw their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels improve. There was no decrease in energy levels reported.
Both groups reduced their calorie intake and ate more fruit and vegetables, which may explain some of the health benefits seen. However, those who stuck to a time-restricted eating schedule saw their health improve more than the control group.
Overall the researchers found that time-restricted eating and a Mediterranean diet for firefighters can help improve cardiometabolic health and quality of life.
“We’ve shown that time-restricted eating is a feasible way for shift workers, such as firefighters, to improve their cardiovascular health and wellbeing,” Professor Pam Taub, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, told the BBC.
“Many of us eat all the time, right up until we go to bed – but the body doesn’t need it.”