The circadian regulation of food intake

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2019 Jul;15(7):393-405. doi: 10.1038/s41574-019-0210-x.


Feeding, which is essential for all animals, is regulated by homeostatic mechanisms. In addition, food consumption is temporally coordinated by the brain over the circadian (~24 h) cycle. A network of circadian clocks set daily windows during which food consumption can occur. These daily windows mostly overlap with the active phase. Brain clocks that ensure the circadian control of food intake include a master light-entrainable clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus and secondary clocks in hypothalamic and brainstem regions. Metabolic hormones, circulating nutrients and visceral neural inputs transmit rhythmic cues that permit (via close and reciprocal molecular interactions that link metabolic processes and circadian clockwork) brain and peripheral organs to be synchronized to feeding time. As a consequence of these complex interactions, growing evidence shows that chronodisruption and mistimed eating have deleterious effects on metabolic health. Conversely, eating, even eating an unbalanced diet, during the normal active phase reduces metabolic disturbances. Therefore, in addition to energy intake and dietary composition, appropriately timed meal patterns are critical to prevent circadian desynchronization and limit metabolic risks. This Review provides insight into the dual modulation of food intake by homeostatic and circadian processes, describes the mechanisms regulating feeding time and highlights the beneficial effects of correctly timed eating, as opposed to the negative metabolic consequences of mistimed eating.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Sensitivity and Specificity