Effects of a late supper on digestion and the absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following morning
© Tsuchida et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
Received: 28 September 2012
Accepted: 6 May 2013
Published: 25 May 2013
Our previous experiment showed that the light intensity exposed on the subjects during evening time had no effect in the following morning on the efficiency of the digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates ingested at a usual suppertime. People who keep late hours usually have a late suppertime; thus, we examined the effects of a late suppertime on gastrointestinal activity in the following morning in comparison to that of a usual suppertime.
Twelve female university students volunteered as paid participants. The breath hydrogen test was carried out to estimate the amount of unabsorbed dietary carbohydrates and the percentage of the total amount of dietary carbohydrates in the breakfast that were unabsorbed, as well as to estimate oro-cecal transit time. The respiratory quotient was also measured to find the ratio of carbohydrates/lipid metabolism in the post-breakfast state. Subjects’ peripheral blood glucose concentration was measured by a blood glucose meter. The subjects participated under two different experimental conditions: with a usual suppertime (having supper at 18:00) and a late suppertime (having supper at 23:00).
The efficiency of the digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the breakfast under late suppertime conditions was higher than that under usual suppertime conditions. Usual or late suppertime had no effect on the ratio of carbohydrates to lipids oxidized after the subjects had breakfast. There were significant differences in the blood glucose level between the two conditions at 30, 60, 120, 150, and 180 minutes after having breakfast, whereas the mean blood glucose level under late suppertime conditions was significantly higher than under usual suppertime conditions.
Having a late supper showed a worse effect on postprandial serum glucose profiles the following morning. This study confirmed that keeping our usual meal timing is important for our health.
KeywordsSuppertime Carbohydrate absorption Postprandial serum glucose profile Breath hydrogen test
Recently, young Japanese peoples’ lifestyle of keeping late hours means their suppertime is now occurring later in the evening [1, 2]. This lifestyle of keeping late hours (a nocturnal lifestyle) is a worldwide trend and may be due to the recent rapid development of an artificial light environment at night. This nocturnal lifestyle is challenging modern human beings, especially those living in metropolitan areas, to adapt to a living environment that is artificially lit, which is unlike previous human experience. This new artificial light condition that recent human beings are confronted with may cause several modern diseases, and epidemiological surveys showed the nocturnal lifestyle is one of the causes of lifestyle-related diseases, especially of obesity . Concerning the relationship between a nocturnal lifestyle and obesity, Nakamura et al. studied the effect of a late suppertime on energy metabolism during the hours of sleep and reported that postprandial energy consumption after having a late supper was lower than that after taking supper at the usual time . In addition, Sekino et al. and Romon et al. studied the influences of eating rhythm on diet-induced thermogenesis in young women and reported that diet-induced thermogenesis for the night pattern meals was lower than that for the morning pattern meals [5, 6]. Concerning to the effect of late meal on the obesity, Sato et al. reported that a single loading of late evening meal enhances average blood glucose over 24 hours, but does not reduce 24-hour energy expenditure . These reports suggested that unusual eating rhythms, such as having supper late, have some effects on human energy metabolism, probably including the gastrointestinal activities.
During the course of our investigations on the effect of an artificially bright evening environment on human digestive physiology, we found that staying under a dim light from 17:00 to 02:00 after taking supper at 16:30 has a better effect on the digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the supper meal than staying under a bright light for the same period . On the other hand exposure of the subjects to bright or dim light after they had supper at 17:30 in the evening (light conditions were controlled from 15:00 to 24:00) showed no different effect on the efficiency of digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following morning meal . This result indicated that the enhancement of sympathetic nervous tone induced by bright light exposure [10, 11], which was supposed to be a major regulatory factor for gastrointestinal activity, ceased the following morning when participants were able to get sleep during the night. This result raises the question ‘does a late suppertime accompanied by a nocturnal lifestyle influence gastrointestinal activity including the efficiency of digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following morning meal?’
A Survey on Time Use and Leisure Activities in 2006  reported that about 60 percent of Japanese people started having supper before and around 19:00, while about 20 percent of people started having supper after 20:00 on weekdays. In relation to the younger generation’s lifestyle of having supper late in the evening [1, 2], we found that overweight women who want to lose weight had a tendency to change their dietary habits. In the trial to make elderly women’s dietary life better, a dieting class had an effect on the participants, and their suppertimes were moved to earlier times than before the women participated in the class . This implies that overweight people consider that keeping proper dietary habits, including a proper food intake rhythm, is important for keeping their proper weight and health. At present, however, we have no idea whether a late supper has a positive or negative effect on gastrointestinal activity in our everyday life. This means that we had no evidence to encourage overweight people to stay motivated enough to keep a proper food intake rhythm. These facts prompted us to examine the effect of a late supper on gastrointestinal activity the following morning by comparison of the efficiency of the digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following breakfast under two experimental conditions; a usual suppertime (having supper at 18:00) and a late suppertime (having supper at 23:00).
21.3 ± 1.6
159.1 ± 5.6
51.7 ± 4.4
20.5 ± 2.1
Experimental protocol and measurements
The breath hydrogen test and unabsorbed dietary carbohydrates (UDC: grams as lacto sucrose equivalent), percentage of unabsorbed carbohydrates in the total carbohydrates in the breakfast (% UDC) and oro-cecal transit time (OCTT) were calculated according to our previous studies [16, 17]. Subject’s end-alveolar breath samples were collected every 20 min, beginning at 07:50 h, into special airtight bags using an Alveolar Gas Collection System AGC-3000 (Breath Lab Co. Ltd., Nara, Japan) and hydrogen concentrations were measured by gas chromatography (Breath Gas Analyzer model BGA-1000; Breath Lab Co. Ltd., Nara, Japan).
The respiratory quotient (RQ) was measured by means of indirect calorimetry using the mixing chamber method with a Portable Gas Monitor AR-1 (type 4, Arco System, Chiba, Japan) connected to a facemask according to Morinaka et al. , and the RQ values during the period of stable breathing were used for further analysis.
Subjects’ peripheral blood glucose concentration was measured by a blood glucose meter with single-packed 3D Test Tips (TERUMO, Tokyo, Japan).
We estimated the whole gut transit time of breakfast according to subjects’ reports of when they observed black in their faces due to the squid ink in the breakfast spaghetti.
Nutrient composition of the test meal for the examination (Days 2, 4)
Dietary fiber (g)
Nutrient composition of the meal on the day before the examination (Days 1, 3)
Dietary fiber (g)
All data are shown as mean ± standard deviation (SD). Differences of mean OCTT, UDC, %UCD, and whole gut transit time for breakfast under the two suppertime conditions were assessed by Student’s paired t test. A comparison of the variation with time of RQ values and blood glucose levels after having breakfast under the two suppertime conditions was performed by the two factor (time and suppertime conditions) repeated measure analysis of variance (ANOVA). We used IBM SPSS ver.19.0 (SPSS Inc., Illinois) for the statistical analyses. A P value <0.05 was considered to be statistically significant.
Gastrointestinal activity values
P value a
278 ± 53b
315 ± 27b
9.16 ± 7.78
5.48 ± 4.62
12.6 ± 10.6
8.0 ± 6.8
Whole gut transit time (hours)
30.7 ± 16.4
34.4 ± 18.3
In this study, we aimed to find the effect of having supper late in the evening (at 23:00) on digestion and the absorption of dietary carbohydrates the following morning compared to that when having supper at a usual time (at 18:00). Concerning the effect of a light evening environment on human gastrointestinal activity, as mentioned in the introduction, Hirota et al.  reported that light intensity (dim or bright) in the evening (until 24:00) after taking supper (at 17:30) has no effect on gastrointestinal activity the following morning judging by the examination of the efficiency of digestion and the absorption of dietary carbohydrates in breakfast. In contrast to Hirota’s experiment, the present study showed that the oro-cecal transit time of chyme and the efficiency of carbohydrate absorption of breakfast the following morning were different between the two suppertimes the previous evening. Table 4 clearly shows that the efficiency of carbohydrate digestion and absorption obtained under the late suppertime condition was higher than that under the usual suppertime condition (the figures in the table show unabsorbed carbohydrates and their percentage in the whole carbohydrate content in the breakfast; therefore, the smaller the figures show the higher the efficiency of digestion and absorption of the dietary carbohydrates). This higher efficiency may be explained by the longer oro-cecal transit time of the chyme after a late supper intake than that after a usual supper intake. The longer oro-cecal transit time means that the chyme was exposed to digestion and the absorption tract for the longer period. Therefore, the efficiency of absorption of carbohydrates after having a late supper became better than that after having the meal at a usual suppertime . This longer oro-cecal transit time and the higher efficiency of digestion and absorption of dietary carbohydrates resulted in higher blood glucose levels after having breakfast under the late suppertime condition than those under the usual suppertime condition. Figure 3 shows no significant difference in RQ values after having breakfast between the two suppertime conditions indicating no reduction in carbohydrate oxidation under the late suppertime condition. This ruled out the possibility that a reduced carbohydrate metabolic rate resulted in higher blood glucose levels after breakfast under the late suppertime condition. The phenomena observed in the present study (the slower motility of the gastrointestinal tract and the higher blood glucose levels in the postprandial state) were very similar to those observed in the experimental euglycemic hyperinsulinemia subjects reported by Eliasson et al. . They observed and reported that experimental euglycemic hyperinsulinemia induced a significant delay of postprandial gastric emptying and resulting higher blood glucose levels after food ingestion. They also reported that the blood levels of the motility-stimulating hormone (motilin) were significantly low during the experimental hyperinsulinemia. In this connection, Kaneko et al.  reported that subjects who led a nocturnal lifestyle, where they skipped breakfast and got most of their energy from a late supper, for a week showed higher insulin levels in the evening and the following morning (18:00 to 6:00) than those who led a normal lifestyle. In addition Nakamura et al.  reported that they observed elevated energy expenditure, increased heart rate, and higher blood glucose levels during sleeping hours after a late supper, and they suggested that those resulted from higher insulin levels at night and during sleep. These reports described above may postulate the hypothesis that a relatively higher insulin level was induced by the late supper and this situation lasted until the following morning and resulted in hyperinsulinemia, which made the oro-cecal transit time of breakfast longer and blood glucose levels higher after breakfast than that under a usual suppertime condition. Of course we need further experiments to prove this hypothesis by measuring blood insulin and motilin levels the morning following a late supper.
In this experiment we observed significantly higher blood glucose levels for 3 hours after breakfast under the late suppertime condition compared to that under the usual suppertime condition (Figure 4). The higher blood glucose levels in the postprandial stage (post-meal hyperglycemia) have been pointed out as a risk factor for diabetes related diseases because many clinical trials have demonstrated no glycemic threshold for induction of either microvascular or macrovascular complications; the higher the glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), the higher the risk for diabetes . In addition Morgan et al. reported meal timing affected glucose tolerance and insulin secretion and recommended avoidance of large meals in the evening for improving postprandial glucose profiles . These imply that habitual late suppers may induce chronic diabetes related diseases. Therefore, this study may help overweight people to consider keeping proper dietary habits including a proper food intake rhythm important for maintaining their proper weight and health.
Having a late-supper showed the non-beneficial effect on postprandial glucose profiles the following morning. This study confirmed that maintaining regular (early) meal timing is important for our health.
Oro-cecal transit time
Unabsorbed dietary carbohydrates
Percentage of unabsorbed dietary carbohydrates in the total carbohydrates in the breakfast.
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