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Study Finds Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Death with Shortened Eating Windows

An analysis encompassing over 20,000 U.S. adults has revealed that individuals who restrict their eating to less than 8 hours per day, as part of a time-restricted eating plan, may face a higher likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those consuming meals across a 12-16 hour window.

This preliminary research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention│Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Scientific Sessions 2024, held from March 18 to 21 in Chicago. The conference delves into the latest scientific insights concerning population-based health and wellness, along with the implications for lifestyle choices.

Time-restricted eating, classified as a form of intermittent fasting, entails limiting food consumption to specific hours each day, typically ranging from a 4- to 12-hour time frame within a 24-hour period. Many adherents adopt a 16:8 eating schedule, where all meals are consumed within an 8-hour window, followed by a 16-hour fasting period. Previous studies have suggested that this approach can improve various cardiometabolic health markers, including blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels.

Senior study author, Victor Wenze Zhong, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China, noted, “Restricting daily eating time to a short period, such as 8 hours per day, has gained popularity in recent years as a way to lose weight and improve heart health. However, the long-term health effects of time-restricted eating, including risk of death from any cause or cardiovascular disease, are unknown.”

To investigate the potential long-term health consequences of an 8-hour time-restricted eating regimen, researchers scrutinized data on dietary patterns from participants in the annual 2003-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), in conjunction with mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Death Index database covering the period from 2003 through December 2019.

Key findings from the analysis include:

  • Individuals adhering to an eating duration of less than 8 hours per day exhibited a 91% higher risk of death attributable to cardiovascular disease.
  • This elevated risk was also observed among individuals with pre-existing heart disease or cancer.
  • Among those with established cardiovascular disease, an eating window ranging from no less than 8 but less than 10 hours per day was linked to a 66% higher risk of death from heart disease or stroke.
  • Time-restricted eating did not mitigate the overall risk of death from any cause.
  • Conversely, an eating duration exceeding 16 hours per day correlated with a reduced risk of cancer mortality among individuals with cancer.

“We were surprised to find that people who followed an 8-hour, time-restricted eating schedule were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Even though this type of diet has been popular due to its potential short-term benefits, our research clearly shows that, compared with a typical eating time range of 12-16 hours per day, a shorter eating duration was not associated with living longer,” Zhong remarked.

He emphasized the importance of individuals, particularly those with existing heart conditions or cancer, being mindful of the association between an 8-hour eating window and heightened risk of cardiovascular death. Zhong advocated for a cautious and personalized approach to dietary recommendations, tailored to individual health statuses and informed by the latest scientific evidence.

“Although the study identified an association between an 8-hour eating window and cardiovascular death, this does not mean that time-restricted eating caused cardiovascular death,” Zhong concluded.

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