feet on scale feet on scale Weight gain may not necessarily be just about calories burned vs. calories consumed, said a new study. (Photo: maggee / Shutterstock)

Eating at odd times can make you fat

The interplay between your circadian rhythm and your gut microbiome can lead to an expanding waistline.

The world is focused on weight gain and what causes it. Recent studies suggest that losing weight is not as simple as “burn more calories than you take in,” though that can definitely help. 

Many believe that some people are genetically predisposed to weight gain, have a medical condition or are on medication that causes weight gain as a side effect. Still others believe that lifestyle has a lot to do with it (sedentary versus active, amount of sleep you get, and so on). 

It turns out that weight gain may have less to do with what you’re eating than when you’re eating it. In other words, eating at strange hours – the midnight snack, for example – is the more likely culprit.

A new study conducted by the Immunology Department at The Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that the makeup of the gut microbiome changes during the day based on each person's internal cycle; if you eat at the wrong time, food doesn't digest the proper way. 

The findings could be important for late-shift workers and frequent travelers, and may help them better understand what is causing otherwise unexplainable weight gain.

The research also pointed to a greater question of why the gut microbiome is now becoming the center of many recent scientific discussions.

“It has recently been realized that this large community of intestinal bacteria function as our 'second genome' that influences almost all aspects of our health,” Dr. Eran Elinav, senior author of the study, told From The Grapevine. “There are more than 10 times more microbial cells in our gut than we have human cells in the body. Most interestingly, while our own genome is more or less static, the composition of bacteria in the gut can be rapidly changed, and can be exploited for therapeutic interventions.”

Working lateDisruptions in people's circadian rhythms, like shift work or jet lag, can change the body's response to food intake, according to a new study. (Photo: blindfire/Shutterstock)

This new knowledge of how the gut microbiome plays a prominent role in determining our health may change the way doctors practice medicine in just a few short years. 

“Modulating the microbiome offers a unique chance to tackle common diseases for which a cure is as yet unavailable. Once the scientific basis is provided and interventions have proven safe and efficacious, doctors may increasingly take advantage of probiotic and targeted antibiotic treatment options,” said Elinav.

Probiotics mean more than just having a serving of yogurt every day. Indeed, some biologists are working on engineering probiotics to read their environment and act in a certain way, hopefully having a much more effective and targeted use. Using bacteria, one biologist’s lab at Cornell is engineering an intestinal cell to work like a pancreatic cell so that diabetics can make insulin on their own. The field is exciting, ever-changing and promising.

According to Elinav, the Weizmann Institute's findings were promising, but much more research needs to be done. 

“While we discovered that there is an interplay between the circadian rhythm of the host and the microbiota, the exact mechanisms remain to be determined," he said.

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