You are what (and when!) you eat.

Meghan Overdeep
July 19, 2018
Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty Images

The results of a ground-breaking new study out of Spain might mean earlier dinnertimes for millions of late-night diners in America.

The findings, which were published in the International Journal of Cancer and reported by CNN this week, found that people who eat dinner before 9 p.m.—or at least two hours before going to sleep—have a 20% lower risk of breast and prostate cancer than those who eat after 10 p.m. or go to bed shortly after the final meal of the day.

"The mechanisms are not clear," Dr. Manolis Kogevinas, a research professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain and lead author of the new study on the topic, told CNN. "What we know from experimental studies is that we are conditioned to function in different parts of the day. We—not only humans but all living organisms— have developed throughout time functioning differently in day and night."

In the study, researchers followed 621 people who had prostate cancer and 1,205 who had breast cancer, as well as a randomly-selected control group of 872 male and 1,321 female patients without cancer. Simply put, they found that longer intervals between a person’s last meal and when they go to sleep are associated with a lower cancer risk.

According to CNN, the results of the Spanish study appear to support previous research, including the work of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute research fellow, Catherine Marinac, who has found that eating “in tune with the body's natural clock” may help to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

"Population-based studies have found that people that [who] eat late at night have higher rates of obesity and worse metabolic profiles," Marinac told CNN. "And in particular, we have found that people that have a longer nightly fasting duration, which might imply less late-night eating, have better blood sugar control and a lower risk of cancer recurrence.”

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Dr. Ganesh Palapattu, chief of urologic oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School, told CNN that he finds the results of the study “intriguing,” though he wouldn’t jump to any life-changing conclusions just yet.

"My general philosophy with these sorts of things are still for patients to not overreact with these studies, to continue to do the things that are known to be hopeful and healthful," Palapattu said. "Don't smoke. Try to maintain your ideal body weight. Exercise regularly. Wear a helmet. Don't text and drive. Wear a seat belt."