Sitting down to an evening meal at least two hours before going to bed reduces the chances of getting both cancers, a study of more than 4,000 people suggests.
Experts believe eating late at night causes inflammation in the body and alters blood sugar levels, both linked to cancer. Evolutionarily, humans are hard-wired to eat when it is light and digest food before going to sleep in the darkness.
But modern life, with late working hours and long commuting times, means many people have got into the habit of eating late.
Researchers led by Barcelona Institute for Global Health found eating before 9pm, compared to having an evening meal after 10pm, cuts the risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women by an average 18 per cent.
Leaving more than two hours between dinner and bedtime, compared to sleeping soon after eating, slashes the odds of both cancers by an average of 20 per cent.
Dr. Manolis Kogevinas, who led the study, said:
People already know that if they eat late and go to bed soon afterwards that they will not metabolise their food and won’t get a good night’s sleep.
We don’t need a study to tell us that, but this study suggests that eating times, like sleep, have longer-term effects for breast and prostate cancer. The impact could be especially important in cultures such as those of southern Europe, where people have supper late.
There is evidence that people who disrupt sleeping patterns by working night shifts, are at greater risk of prostate and breast cancer, although not all studies agree. Now experts believe changes to other daily patterns, such as mealtimes, could also upset the body’s natural function.
The Spanish researchers asked more than 1,800 people with prostate and breast cancer, and more than 2,000 healthy people about the timings of their meals and sleeping habits. The results show those eating before 9pm, compared to after 10pm, were 25 per cent less likely to have prostate cancer and 15 per cent less likely to have breast cancer.
People who ate more than two hours before going to bed were 26 per cent less likely to have prostate cancer and 16 per cent less likely to have breast cancer.The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, states that “modern life involves erratic and mistimed eating patterns such as late-night eating”.