New research suggests that your meal times have an effect on the triglycerides in your liver — meaning that changing when you eat could actually significantly impact your internal functioning.

Much of what our body does is maintained by our “internal clock,” or circadian rhythms, which are based on a 24-hour period. This internal clock is synched to when the sun sets or rises every morning — external signals or cues that help trigger the cycle. If our circadian rhythms are disrupted in some way, our bodies may end up experiencing imbalances and are more likely to become vulnerable to disorders like obesity, metabolic syndrome, or fatty liver.

This particular study, published in Cell Metabolism, observed lipid levels in mouse livers and how they are affected by circadian rhythm. Researchers from the Weizmann Institute’s Biological Chemistry Department and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute found that certain lipids known as triglycerides tended to ebb and flow based on the body’s internal clock. Their levels reached a peak about eight hours after sunrise, results showed.

Interestingly enough, however, the scientists discovered something totally different, too. Even in mice that lacked an internal clock, the liver lipids still fluctuated every day. “These results came as a complete surprise: One would expect that if the inherent clock mechanism is ‘dead,’ [triglycerides] could not accumulate in a time-dependent fashion,” postdoctoral fellow Yaarit Adamovich said in a press release.

If it’s not the internal clock making these lipid levels rise and fall, then it may have to do with eating times, the authors hypothesized. “One thing that came to mind was that, since food is a major source of lipids — particularly [triglycerides] — the eating habits of these mice might play a role,” Adamovich said.

The researchers then tested the mice by changing their meal times. They gave them the same amount of food, but only fed them at night; the research team found that the triglyceride levels declined by 50 percent overall. What this means is that triglyceride levels in the liver are based on a combination of both circadian rhythm as well as meal times.

“The striking outcome of restricted nighttime feeding — lowering liver [triglyceride] levels in the very short time period of 10 days in the mice — is of clinical importance,” Dr. Gad Asher, an author of the study, said in the press release. “Hyperlipidemia and hypertriglyceridemia are common diseases characterized by abnormally elevated levels of lipids in blood and liver cells, which lead to fatty liver and other metabolic diseases. Yet no currently available drugs have been shown to change lipid accumulation as efficiently and drastically as simply adjusting meal time — not to mention the possible side effects that may be associated with such drugs.”