Published on 4 August 2014

The effect of disrupting the body clock for people doing shift work has been reported as a possible risk factor in being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes according to a recently published report by researchers in China.

The study was carried out by researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei, and Jiangxi Science and Technology Normal University, Nanchang, Jiangxi, both in China.

Researchers looked at studies from around the world to find observational studies that have examined whether shift work may be associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that shift work, with its irregular working hours and rotating schedule has been demonstrated to have some effect on sleep patterns, tiredness, cognitive capacity, and digestion.

There was a significant association with diabetes for rotating shifts, irregular or unspecific shifts and night shifts; but no link for mixed or evening shifts. The largest association with type 2 diabetes was with rotating shifts (42% risk).

The researchers concluded: “Shift work is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. The increase was significantly higher among men and the rotating shift group, which warrants further studies.”

It is estimated that in just over 10 years the number of cases of type 2 diabetes could increase by 65% to reach 380 million cases worldwide.

An NHS Behind The Headlines analysis of the study said: “The identified relationship is undoubtedly worthy of further study to see whether shift work could have direct biological effects on the body that lead to the development of diabetes. As we are increasingly a 24/7 economy, many people are expected to work unsociable shifts, and the health effects of shift work may become more noticeable.

“If there is a link between shift work and diabetes (or other chronic diseases), it is equally possible at this stage that it could still be due to confounding from various sociodemographic, health and lifestyle factors that are associated with both shift work and risk of diabetes.

“Overall, it cannot be firmly concluded at this stage whether and how shift work may be associated with diabetes.”

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