Throughout my life I have never been able to take a heavy meal at night, so it is rather good news to hear from scientists that eating late at night is putting millions of people in danger of suffering heart attacks and strokes. My abstention from refusing to eat dinner after 7pm has nothing to do with any health issues; it was simply a matter of habit first and lately, for sleeping better as a result.
Apparently, having a meal within two hours of bedtime keeps the body on ‘high alert’ when it should be winding down, researchers have found. They said adults should ideally eat dinner before 7pm to give the body enough time to relax and blood pressure to drop. It is well known that when healthy people go to sleep, the blood pressure drops by at least 10 per cent, but the study of more than 700 people with high blood pressure found that eating within two hours of bedtime meant their levels stayed high. Experts think this is because eating releases a rush of stress hormones when the body should be starting to relax.
People who do not see their blood pressure fall at night are known as ‘non-dippers’, and have a much higher level of heart–related deaths. Late night eaters were nearly three times more likely to be ‘non-dippers’, researchers found. Dr Emru Ozeplid, from Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey, tracked 721 people diagnosed with high blood pressure, who had an average age of 53. She found those who ate within two hours of going to bed were 2.8 times more likely to retain high blood pressure over night.
Some 9.4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with high blood pressure which is also known as hypertension. They are already at the high risk end of heart diseases but if their blood pressure does not fall at night, the risks increase to a far higher level. Experts estimate that 40 per cent of patients with hypertension are ‘non-dippers’ – potentially 3.76 million people in Britain – putting them at serious risk of major heart problems.
Presenting her results at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Rome, Dr Ozeplid said: ‘If blood pressure doesn’t drop by more than 10 per cent, this increases cardiovascular risk and these patients have more heart attacks, strokes and chronic diseases.’ But even healthy people with normal blood pressure should take note of the findings. Dr Ozeplid said: ‘How we eat is maybe as important as what we eat.’ She advised people not to skip breakfast, eat lunch and keep dinner to a small meal. ‘Dinner must not be later than 7 o’clock in the evening,’ she added.
Previous research has found that an early dinner reduces the risk of breast cancer, lowers blood sugar levels and helps burn off calories. Experts think that the body evolved to expect meals much earlier in the day because people went to sleep when it got dark, but nowadays we stay up much later, distracted by the trappings of modern life. Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation said: ‘It is normal for blood pressure to reduce overnight even with people with high blood pressure. However, in some, their blood pressure remains elevated throughout the night putting them sat potentially at higher risk of future complications.’
All this makes sense to me for the body needs to be regulated in order to remain in full throttle and thus enjoy a healthy disposition. To abuse it is to render it vulnerable to major breakdown which can lead to an early death. Why then take this unnecessary risk to add to the already inherent vagaries of nature?