Shift work significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, says new research

by Barbara Hewitt on July 25, 2014

Shift work, especially rotating patterns, can raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than a third, with the risk highest for men, new research claims.

More work needs to be done to find out how the disruption to the body clock impacts diabetes, according to the researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China.


Shift work has been found to increase diabetes risk

Shift work has long been known to increase the risk of cancer, heart problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but the overall impact on diabetes has been unclear.

The study involved analysing data from international studies comprised of more than 226,500 participants, 14,600 of whom had diabetes.

When researchers pooled results from all the studies, they calculated that any period of shift work was associated with a 9% increased risk of developing diabetes compared with working normal office hours.

The added risk rose to 37% for men, after accounting for the potential effects of gender, study design, study location, job, shift schedule, body mass index, family history of diabetes and physical activity levels.

The reasons for these findings are not clear, said lead author Professor Zuxun Lu, but it is thought that daytime levels of the male hormone testosterone are controlled by the internal body clock and repeated disruption may affect this.

Most shift patterns, except mixed and evening shifts, were associated with a heightened risk of diabetes compared with study participants working normal office hours.

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%. The researchers explained that these types of shifts make it harder for people to adjust to a regular sleep/wake cycle, and lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, may prompt or worsen insulin resistance.

‘Shift work is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The increase was significantly higher among men and the rotating shift group, which warrants further study,’ the researchers concluded.

Shift work is also associated with weight gain and increased appetite, both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Shift work can also disturb cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive has commissioned researchers in Oxford to explore the relationship between chronic disease and shift work. That study is expected to be completed in December 2015.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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