Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Shift Work Increases Your Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

I have written often about the risks of working shifts and the bad way it can affect your health. Women have a greater risk of breast cancer, men have more heart attacks and the chances of being involved in a traffic accident rise when you drive after a night’s work. This month, a new study from Professor Zuxun Lu, School of Public Health, Tongii Medical College, China is published in BMJ online and warns of a serious risk of type2 diabetes in male shift workers.

Shift work is linked to a raised risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in men and those working rotating shift patterns, sys a paper published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Previous research has suggested links between working shifts and a heightened risk of various health problems, including digestive disorders, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease. But whether diabetes can be added to the list has not been clear. The Prof’s team studied results from around 260,000 participants, 14,600 of whom had diabetes.

When they pooled all the results together they calculated that any period of shift work was associated with a 9% increased risk of developing diabetes compared with working normal office hours. But this risk rose to 37% for men!

Daytime levels of the male hormone testosterone are controlled by the internal body clock, so it’s possible that repeated disruption may affect this, say the authors, pointing to research implicating low male hormone levels in insulin resistance and diabetes.

Most shift patterns, except mixed and evening shifts, were associated with a heightened risk of the disease compared with those working normal office hours. And rotating shifts, in which people work different parts of the 24 hour cycle on a regular basis, rather than a fixed pattern, were associated with the highest risk: 42%.

Rotating shifts make it harder for people to adjust to a regular sleep-wake cycle, and some research has suggested that a lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, may prompt or worsen insulin resistance, say the authors.

Other research has linked shift work to weight gain and increased appetite, both of which are risk factors for diabetes, and shift work may also disturb cholesterol levels and blood pressure, they add.

Humans are diurnal – day oriented – as opposed to nocturnal. Our physiological functions are geared towards daytime activity and night-time rest. Our temperature, heart rate, gastric activity and sleep/wake cycle all have rhythms regulated by our brain’s internal biological clock. These cycles are known as ’circadian’ rhythms. Night shifts disrupt our body’s natural circadian rhythm. As a result of this and associated factors like poor diet, shift workers are more likely to suffer gastrointestinal problems.

So, how can anyone working a shift look after their health and well-being while maintaining a demanding schedule, especially during winter months? And how can they ensure that they get a ’good day’s sleep’ when light hours’ activity is going on around them?

My friend and colleague, Dr Rob Hicks has this advice on how to minimise any health problems that could occur.

Food – Normally the digestive system is relatively inactive at night. As a result, foods tolerated well during the day can cause digestive problems during the night.

When on a night shift eat light nutritional meals that will digest easily. Steer clear of foods that can lead to sugar ’highs’ and ’lows’

Develop a regular eating schedule for the shift you are on, including a meal before starting night duty and one in the middle of your awake period. Eat the largest meal of the day when you wake up and as little as possible towards the end of the shift, especially if you go to bed soon after finishing. Drink daily probiotics – live yoghurt and fermented milk drinks like Yakult – which contain ’friendly’ bacteria, to help keep a better balance within the gut and help promote a healthy digestive system.

Caffeine – Don’t drink tea, coffee or cola, which all contain caffeine, before going to bed. Try not to drink too much coffee on night shifts as this can irritate the digestive system.

Sleep – Adults need one hour of sleep for every two hours awake. Try to improve sleep by organising a cool, quiet darkened room. When on a shift, negotiate with neighbours and family to keep noise levels low, or consider using ear plugs. Develop a pre-bedtime ritual like reading or taking a bath.

Exercise – Don’t exercise before going to bed because it creates a state of wakefulness. But regular exercise will help your quality of sleep. Exercise is excellent just after waking up to restore your alertness for work, raising body temperature and improving your mood.

In addition to these tips, wear dark glasses on your way home from work to reduce the stimulating effect of sun-light. Use a non-addictive herbal medicine to help you sleep better in the day and to relax while you do. Bonuit is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances due to symptoms of mild anxiety, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy and containing Valerian and Passion Flower

Passionflower is widely used in remedies for anxiety and nervous tension. Native to South America, this climbing shrub produces wonderful showy flowers. Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome.

For more information see : www.bonuit.co.uk


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