Editors' ChoiceMetabolism

You Are What and When You Eat

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Science Translational Medicine  04 Jul 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 141, pp. 141ec116
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004510

Good eating habits are important for maintaining health. However, it is not only eating too much but also eating at improper times or continuous nibbling that can lead to obesity and metabolic disease. Energy metabolism in the human body has a "circadian rhythm." For instance, we get hungry and sleepy at specific times in each 24-hour period. The metabolic energy cycle is involved in the regulation of feeding and affects the daily rhythm of activation of key regulators of nutrient homeostasis, such as the transcription factor cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) response element–binding protein (CREB) and the kinases AMPK and AKT. In obese individuals, feeding behavior tends to be disrupted and thus alters metabolic homeostasis. In a new study, Hatori et al. propose a lifestyle intervention that can prevent obesity and accompanying metabolic disease simply by maintaining feeding rhythms even when a high-fat diet is consumed.

Disruption of the normal feeding cycle is commonly found in animal models of obesity and diabetes. The authors asked whether robust metabolic cycles could protect against nutritional challenges that predispose animals to obesity. They subjected isogenic mice to either ad libitum or time-restricted feeding of a high-fat diet for 8 hours. With free access to food, a high-fat diet severely blunts diurnal rhythms and causes mouse obesity, glucose intolerance, hepatic steatosis, and inflammation. However, with time-restricted feeding of a high-fat diet, diurnal rhythms were maintained and mice were protected from the typical symptoms normally induced by a high-fat diet, even though these mice consumed an equivalent number of calories compared with mice with free access to the fatty foods. Feeding the mice a high-fat diet in this time-restricted manner resulted in an increase in thermogenesis as well as improved rhythms in nutrient utilization.

It is quite surprising that simply maintaining feeding rhythms without changing caloric intake diminishes the negative effects of a high-fat diet on metabolism and health, at least in a mouse model. This finding clearly supports the idea that proper eating habits and regular feeding times are critical for health. This type of time-restricted feeding regimen may become a useful nonpharmacological strategy for combating obesity and metabolic disease in humans.

M. Hatori et al., Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet. Cell Metab. 15, 848–860 (2012). [Abstract]

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