Shift work may cause hormonal changes that increase type 2 diabetes risk

Working an overnight shift may cause metabolic changes in individuals that make them more prone to obesity, putting them at risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

The researchers who conducted the study said that shift workers are recognized as having a higher risk for developing cardio-metabolic disorders. However, prior to the new study, it was not known what accounted for this increased risk.

After examining hair samples of 33 shift workers and 89 day workers, the researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that those who work overnight shifts have much higher levels of cortisol.

This hormone is associated with reactions to stress. In short bursts, it can help prepare a person's body to react to potentially dangerous situations. However, previous studies have shown that when when an individual has sustained high levels of cortisol, it can cause damage to the cardiovascular and metabolic systems.

"Our findings show that cortisol might play an important part in the development of obesity and increased cardiovascular risk for those working in shifts," said Laura Manenschijn, MD, the study's leader. "Unraveling the role of cortisol in the health problems found in shift workers could result in new approaches to prevent cardiovascular damage in this specific group."

The study also revealed that shift workers under the age of 40 were the most likely to have high cortisol levels. This suggests that younger individuals may be at the greatest risk of health complications associated with their work schedule. These individuals may need to take extra steps like working to lower their stress levels or get more exercise in order to avoid obesity and type 2 diabetes.