Those who work shift work – both steady second or third-shift schedules or swing shifts, which include shifts that rotate between day, afternoon and night work – are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to the results of a new study.
Shift workers generally include factory workers, health care workers and those in the service industry, among others.
Experts attributed the elevated risk to disruptions in the circadian rhythm, or biological clock, which disrupt both sleeping and eating patterns. Eating late at night also was a possible explanation, because it makes the body more prone to storing energy as fat, elevating the risk of obesity and consequently, type 2 diabetes.
The study, which appeared in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine and was conducted by researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, showed shift workers of both sexes were 9 percent more likely to have type 2 diabetes, while men’s risk soared to 35 percent. For men who worked swing shifts, their diabetes risk rose to 42 percent..
“The result suggests that male shift workers should pay more attention to the prevention of diabetes,”
researchers said. “Given the increasing prevalence of shift work worldwide and the heavy economic burden of diabetes, the results of our study provide practical and valuable clues for the prevention of diabetes.”
The Chinese study echoes the results of a 2013 study of mice by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., which found that disruptions in the circadian rhythm – a hazard of shift work – increases the risk for not only diabetes and metabolic syndrome, but also cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.
Researchers attributed the risk to disruptions in insulin production, which is not constant over the course of a 24-hour period. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm, they said, “thereby predisposed the animals to insulin resistance and obesity.”
At a high-fat diet to the mix, and you’re playing Russian roulette with your health, according to researchers at Texas A&M Health Science Center, who said that eating high-fat foods also alters the functioning of the biological clock, exacerbating problems for those who work shift work.
“Under normal conditions, circadian clocks help maintain the anti-inflammatory function of immune cells and keep metabolism functioning properly,” said Dr. David Earnest. “With a high-fat diet, the circadian clock is dysregulated, which intensifies inflammation and fat deposition and leads to systemic insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.”
Earnest’s study appeared in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and seems to suggest that those who work rotating shifts should take special care to eat a balanced diet to prevent the onset of diabetes