Brain research finds new link between weight gain and meal times

15 May 2018
Brain research finds new link between weight gain and meal times

New research suggests that restricting food intake to certain times of the day could help tackle obesity. 

The study, published today in neuroscience journal, JNeurosci, restricted the food intake of mice to half of the day and found they gained less weight than mice with unrestricted access to food. 

This important finding could inform future obesity research in humans, providing a new method to combat weight gain. 

“Only about five per cent of people who lose weight are able to maintain their weight loss, so research that could uncover new strategies to support their efforts is of real benefit,” says lead author Professor Amanda Page, Head of the University of Adelaide Vagal Afferent Research Group based within the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI). 

The study looked at the effects that restricting food intake to only part of the day had on mice on both high fat and lean diets. 

“Nerve fibres in the stomach communicate to the brain on the amount of food in the stomach. This creates feelings of fullness and contentment after a meal. The sensitivity of these nerve fibres helps to coordinate food intake in line with the body’s energy requirements throughout the day,” says Professor Page. 

A previous study found that the normal timing of these signals from the stomach to the brain disappear in mice that become obese from eating a high-fat diet. 

In this new study, researchers compared the weight and fat mass gains of mice on lean diets, those on high fat diets and those on lean or high fat diets with restricted access to food (either from midnight to noon or noon to midnight). 

“We found that time restricted feeding of mice on lean and high fat-diets had a positive impact on the regularity of signalling from the stomach to the brain. In particular, it prevented the loss in rhythm in the signalling in high-fat-diet mice. 

“We also found that the mice on the restricted feeding high fat-diet regime gained less weight than those with unrestricted access to the same diet,” says Professor Page. 

Further research is required to determine whether the disappearance of signalling that occurs in mice that become obese from a high-fat diet can be reversed by time restricted feeding. 

“If this is the case, it could provide additional support for time restricted feeding regimes in the treatment of obesity,” Professor Page says.