Strict Meal Schedule May Benefit Huntington’s Patients, UCLA Mouse Study Suggests

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by Alice Melão |

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Keeping a strict eating schedule may help improve the quality of life of patients with Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, a mouse study suggests.

The study, “Time restricted feeding improves circadian dysfunction as well as motor symptoms in the Q175 mouse model of Huntington’s disease,” appeared in eNeuro, the journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

Huntington’s, a neurodegenerative disease, can lead to a broad spectrum of physical and emotional symptoms. Patients often report sleep disturbances, with frequent bedtime awakenings and daytime fatigue. The onset of these day/night rhythm alterations commonly occurs in early stages of the disease, and can deeply affect a patient’s quality of lide.

A research team at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) decided to evaluate if controlling meal schedules could help improve circadian rhythmicity in Huntington’s patients, thereby delaying progression of the disease. To do that, they used a mouse model of Huntington’s that replicates many characteristics of the human disease, including circadian clock dysfunction symptoms.

They divided the mice into two groups. One group had food available all the time (ad libitum feeding), and a second group that was kept to a strict six-hour feeding and 18-hour fasting regimen. The meal schedule “was designed to be aligned with the middle of the time when mice are normally active,” researchers explained.

Researchers found that mice kept on a controlled meal schedule had better motor performance and a more typical rhythm of daily activity. They also had better heart rate variability, which suggests an improved autonomic nervous system response. In addition, strictly regulating meals influenced the expression of several genes in the striatum, the brain region involved in motor control which is affected in Huntington’s.

In essence, controlling the time of feeding — but not the quantity of food — can act as an environmental signal that may help manage the inner body clock, and improve outcome of the disease.

“The present study adds to a growing body of evidence that improvements in ‘circadian hygiene’ through attention to regularity in environmental signaling, including timed feeding, leads to improvements in health outcomes for a wide range of human diseases including neurodegenerative disorders,” UCLA researchers concluded.