Night shift workers are at greater risk for obesity, diabetes, cancer—but why?

| | May 17, 2018

Researchers have been studying night workers for years, trying to better understand what happens to our circadian rhythms and our bodies when we are up-and-at-it at the time we’re supposed to be asleep. The findings are stark — night shift workers have a higher risk for diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

But what’s happening inside us? Have the genes that control our internal body clocks (there are trillions of clocks at work all at once, said one researcher who spoke to STAT) gone haywire, ramping up or tamping down in weird ways? Or are those genes digging in their heels, refusing to give up their cyclic nature, making it harder for the bodies of night workers to adapt to their flipped schedules?

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It’s complicated, and might be a little bit of both, said Laura Kervezee, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University.

The findings do show a physiological disconnect — many of the genes associated with circadian cycles kept their rhythms, but seemed to fire at lower strength. Many genes couldn’t (or maybe wouldn’t?) adapt their expression to a flip-flopped sleep schedule. Gene expression related to metabolism, and the function of certain immune cells and potential cancer-causing signaling pathways were also altered.

“Very few genes adapt to this new night shift schedule,” Kervezee said.

Read full, original post: New research looks at how our bodies respond (or don’t) to night shift work

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