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Irregular meal times influence intestinal health

Understanding chrono-nutrition is important for having an enjoyable meal time

It is quite difficult to keep a regular life style, isn’t it? However, it is important to know why dawn breaks and night will come through daylight hours, and why having meals three times a day is ideal. Our body follows a 24 hours circadian rhythm (biological clock). The genes related to the biological clock in the human’s body were first identified in 1997, and the studies on the biological clock came to the limelight subsequently. Among those studies, chrono-nutrition, which focuses on “what and when to eat” is proactively studied in the field of nutrition.

I am interested in learning about foods good for health, but I place greater emphasis on “enjoy eating food”. If you eat while thinking that “if you eat, you may get sick or may become fat”, your eating time will not be enjoyable. The idea of chrono-nutrition is useful in such a case because if you can control the time to eat rather than what you eat, you can build your body in order to make it difficult to get overweight or become sick.

Here are some examples to support the above explanation. Some research have showed that even if you eat the same amount of food, when you eat this food at a lower proportion during breakfast (For example, a ratio of one with breakfast versus 3 with dinner) this makes you fat easily, but you gain less weight when eating at a ratio of 3 with breakfast versus 1 with dinner. Additionally, many people speaks that carbohydrates make you fat, but if you take right amount of carbohydrates in the morning and less amount at night, the elevation of blood-glucose levels and obesity can be prevented. Therefore, I have developed the habit of eating my favorite things including carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch, and have less amount of carbohydrates and reduce the overall size of dinner.

The adjustment of the daily eating rhythm makes the intestines healthy

The food that we eat is broken down finely by digestive enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract and is absorbed into the body mainly from the small intestine. Fold-like protrusions called villi which spread in the intestines, are deeply involved in this nutritional absorption process. Nutrients such as amino acids, sugar, and fatty acids pass through the intestinal cells that constitute this intestinal villi, they are absorbed in the blood vessels and lymph vessels, and eventually become nutrition for the body. If we spread the intestinal villi in a flat surface, it would be similar to the size of a badminton court (formerly said to be the same size as a tennis court). It absorbs nutrients using such a large area.

In fact, research studies have found that the villi do not always stretch. Intestinal cells (epithelial cells) that compose the villi are reborn in about 1 to 3 days. This means that because of keeping those cells new, the body can properly absorb nutrition and activate immune cells which 70% of them are concentrated in the intestines. The reborn of the villi is connected to the rhythm of hunger and intake. When the stomach is empty, the villi in the small intestine is very short, but once food enters the stomach, the cells are activated and the villi stretches.

The villus that absorbs nutrients in the small intestine does not always stretch

What will the villi become if one often takes time to have snacks, or keeps eating interminably? In this case, the villi are stimulated continuously and will get exhausted which will result in disturbances in the regeneration (turnover) of the intestines. Moreover, since this causes an excessive nutritional absorption, one will be vulnerable to weight gain. Experts have suggested that a cause of increased lifestyle diseases, especially in developed countries, would be a very short span duration of the small intestine without food.

How about the case of continuous abrosia due to conducting a fasting over many days? Because there is no stimulation by the diet, villi are almost not seen. The absence of villi means the lack of epithelial and immune cells which are a defense against the entry of foreign enemies into the body, this in turn increases the risk of infectious diseases, etc. For example, hibernators fast for several months and their intestines are shaped like simple tubes. Therefore, they keep themselves hidden and calm in order to avoid catching any infection.

In order for the villi in the small intestine to properly repeat its reproduction process, having three meals a day at regular intervals is ideal. For example, if we have breakfast at 7:00, lunch at 13:00 and dinner at 19:00, there will be a 6 hours interval between each meal. The interval from dinner until next breakfast will be 12 hours. Since 12 hours fasting is suitable to stimulate the regeneration of the intestinal villi, this pattern of mealtime can be excellent for keeping the intestines healthy. Of course, there may be occasions where we cannot have meals according to this pattern. However, if we could follow this said timing of meals or at get closer to it, we can accomplish losing weight without doing a drastic diet and maintain ourselves healthy. That said, it is not good to eat a lot food at night as I mentioned in a previous paragraph.

A drastic diet increases the dominancy of the gut bacteria responsible for people to be fat

Some people try to lose weight with drastic dieting when they gain weight. However, many of them experienced soon a rebound from dieting. When we lost weight rapidly by doing fasting, etc., it seems like that blood conditions improved as well as the body weight decreased. In fact, the type of intestinal bacteria that make people fat becomes dominant which in turn makes us very vulnerable to weight gain when we eat after the fasting. This has been reported in the scientific journal, Nature. If you are planning to lose weight, we recommend you to regulate your mealtime little by little and allocate the eating volumes at a proportion of “3 with breakfast versus 1 with dinner (you can eat your favorite food at lunch)” instead of aiming for quick weight reduction with drastic dieting. Slow dieting with regulating mealtime and allocating suitable portion of meal can provide very positive effects on our health and beauty care.

Some research studies have suggested that the lactic acid produced by intestinal bacteria is necessary for the regeneration of intestinal cells. The ingestion of dietary fiber can activate bacteria which produce lactic acid, and we can obtain more lactic acid from fermented food. I recommend you to add those foods to your everyday meals.

Credit to: Muneaki Takahata Ph.,D.

Nature 540, 544-551 (2016)
Persistent microbiome alterations modulate the rate of post-dieting weight regain.