According to a new study, shift workers may be at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. The people particularly at risk? Men.
Also at special risk are shift workers who don’t work on a set schedule, with shifts moving around at various times of the day.
The study, which was published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine and was led by Zuxun Lu of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, took several factors into account, such as workers’ shift schedules, their body mass index (BMI, a calculation of height and weight), family history of diabetes and their level of physical activity.
Although the reason why men are at greater risk than women isn’t clear, the researchers believe that testosterone levels may play a role. Prior studies have pointed to an association between low testosterone levels and insulin resistance and diabetes, the researchers noted.
Daytime levels of this male hormone are regulated by the internal body clock, Lu’s team explained.
According to Lu’s team, erratic working schedules make it more difficult for the body to establish a sleep-wake cycle, and poor sleep may worsen insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
Previous studies have also linked shift work to weight gain and obesity, a big risk factor for type 2 diabetes. And the researchers note that shift work can also affect cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Other experts point to the difficulty of scheduling regular meals and exercise as other potential contributing factors, and suggest that those who must do shift work consult their doctor to monitor cholesterol levels, blood pressure and insulin levels to detect if blood sugar levels are increasing. In addition, doctors may also be able to help workers get adequate amounts of sleep.