New Research Sheds Light on Why Shift Workers Are More at Risk for Diabetes

It's long been known that overnight shift workers are 50% more likely to get diabetes. Now, new research may have discovered why.

The Discovery

Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a controlled study of 14 healthy individuals to see how shift work affected the body's ability to control blood-sugar levels. The findings were surprising, but explain a lot.

"Our study underscores that it's not just what you eat, but also when you eat that greatly influences blood-sugar regulation, and that has important health consequences," said Harvard Medical School associate neuroscientist Frank Scheer. "Our findings suggest that the circadian system strongly affects glucose tolerance, independent from the feeding/fasting and sleep/wake cycles."

Circadian Misalignment

Researchers found that people had lower glucose tolerance in the evening than they did in the morning and that working nights lowered glucose tolerance. They deemed this 'Circadian Misalignment' and hope to use the finding to help improve glucose control for those who work nights.

"Because night work will never disappear, we're investigating whether it's possible to schedule food intake to occur at more advantageous times," said Scheer. These findings may help ultimately reduce the risks for shift workers.

Photo: Lucile Roberts