Thursday, April 11, 2013

Risks of Shift Work

"There is strong evidence that shift work is related to a number of serious health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity," says Frank Scheer PhD, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "These differences we're seeing can't just be explained by lifestyle or socioeconomic status." Shift work is also linked to stomach problems and ulcers, depression, and an increased risk of accidents or injury. Previous research has linked such shifts to a raised risk for health problems including obesity and diabetes, because the inconsistent shifts - which are often economically necessary for some industries such as transportation - disrupt the body's natural sleep cycle, the circadian rhythm and work-life balance. Now, the largest study of shift work to date that looked at heart health has found that workers may face an increased risk for heart problems such as strokes and heart attacks. For the new research, published online July 26 in British Medical Journal, scientists analyzed results from 34 earlier studies involving more than 2 million people. Out of those, about 17,350 had some sort of heart event with 6,600 having a heart attack and 1,850 having an ischemic stroke, caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. According to data collected from US Nurses’ Health Study, in which 240,000 nurses were followed for 30 years, women who work for many years on the night shift have an elevated risk of breast, colon and endometrial cancer. Researchers think it’s related to melatonin levels, since those with high levels of the hormone in the study had the lowest cancer risk. How to cope: If you're working nights over the course of many years, keep up with your screenings. Talk to a sleep doctor about possibly taking melatonin supplements. They’re available over the counter and are safe, but taking them is complex and you’ll need an expert’s guidance.

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