Long-term shift work can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cancer, and gastrointestinal problems. The Department of Internal Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) tells more.
Continued from previous page.
Other common health risks of shift work
Beyond sleep disorders, long-term shift work disrupts the body’s hormonal, digestive, metabolic, and cardiovascular systems and increases your health risks for:
Type 2 diabetes
Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is higher if you are a female shift worker on night shifts, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study. Women who worked the longest on night shifts (over 20 years) had a 58 per cent risk of type 2 diabetes compared to a 20 per cent risk for those who worked for three to nine years.
The stress induced by regular shift work could cause a significant rise in long-term levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in shift workers below 40 years of age. Studies show close links between high levels of cortisol and poor cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The risk of heart disease among shift workers could be as high as 40 per cent.
The hormonal imbalance triggered by shift work could cause abdominal obesity. Shift work lowers the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin which means shift workers often end up feeling hungrier than usual. Unhealthy eating is another cause for obesity among shift workers.
In 2007, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that shift work is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. It increases the risks for breast and prostate cancers among regular shift workers.
Rotating shift work can trigger digestive problems due to irregular eating patterns. Some of the symptoms include heartburn and other symptoms of gastric irritation.
“Some people prefer shift work because of its variety, flexibility, and higher pay. By making sure you have enough sleep, rest every 2 to 3 hours and exercise, you can lessen the risk of excessive fatigue that can lead to health problems,” says
Dr Fong Yuke Tien, Senior Consultant and Director of Occupational Medicine,
Department of Internal Medicine,
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the
See previous page to learn about shift work sleep disorder.