New study: Even a few night shifts can raise diabetes, obesity risk

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The study highlights the health risks of night shift work on metabolism.

NEW YORK, May 12: A recent study has raised concerns about the potential health impacts of working night shifts, shedding light on how it may disrupt internal biological rhythms and increase the risk of metabolic disorders. Conducted by researchers from Washington State University (WSU) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the study suggests that even a few days of night shifts can have profound effects on various bodily processes, including blood sugar regulation, metabolism, and inflammation.

Senior study author, Hans Van Dongen, a professor at the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, explained, “There are processes tied to the master biological clock in our brain that are saying that day is day and night is night and other processes that follow rhythms set elsewhere in the body that say night is day and day is night. When internal rhythms are dysregulated, you have this enduring stress in your system that we believe has long-term health consequences.”

Published in the Journal of Proteome Research, the study involved subjecting volunteers to three days of night or day shift schedules. Following this, participants underwent 24 hours of wakefulness under controlled conditions to assess their internal biological rhythms. Blood samples collected at regular intervals during this period revealed significant differences in protein levels between day and night shift workers.

The researchers noted a nearly complete reversal of proteins related to blood sugar regulation in night shift workers, along with a disruption in processes associated with insulin production and sensitivity. Jason McDermott, a computational scientist with PNNL’s Biological Sciences Division, commented, “What we showed is that we can see a difference in molecular patterns between volunteers with normal schedules and those with schedules that are misaligned with their biological clock.”

This finding provides new insights into why night shift workers may be more susceptible to metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity. The study suggests that circadian misalignment, resulting from night shift work, creates a conflict between central clock mechanisms controlling insulin secretion and peripheral clock mechanisms regulating insulin sensitivity. These findings underscore the importance of understanding the impact of shift work on health and the need for strategies to mitigate its adverse effects.

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