You already know a number of things that can reduce your chances of getting various types of cancer. Avoiding tobacco products is a biggie, as is taking care of your skin when it’s in the sun, but have you ever considered your choice of dinner time as a contributing factor to your risk of cancer? Probably not, but new research suggests that you might want to consider it.

A new study published in the International Journal of Cancer draws some very interesting links between the time of the evening that a person eats their dinner and their overall risk of developing certain types of cancers, including breast and prostate cancer, which are two of the largest killers of men and women.

“Modern life involves mistimed sleeping and eating patterns that in experimental studies are associated with adverse health effects,” the researchers explain. “We assessed whether timing of meals is associated with breast and prostate cancer risk taking into account lifestyle and chronotype, a characteristic correlating with preference for morning or evening activity.”

The core of the research focuses on how long before bedtime a person eats their last meal of the day. Individuals who eat before 9 p.m. or eat at least a couple of hours before hitting the sack dramatically lower their risk of developing cancer. The scientists estimate that these individuals enjoy a 20% drop in cancer risk when compared to those who eat dinner after 10 p.m. or eat right before climbing into bed.

The researchers followed the habits of thousands of individuals and tracked their nighttime eating habits and whether or not they developed cancer over the long term. The numbers seem to point towards early dinners being a very beneficial thing if you’re hoping to avoid some of the more common types of cancer, but the scientists still don’t know exactly why that’s true. At the moment they believe circadian rhythm, which is the patterns of daily activity and sleep that humans have established over hundreds of thousands of years, is playing a role, though they can’t say exactly how.

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