Grave risk of the graveyard shift

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Shift work is a necessary evil for so many industries, and can cause plenty of scheduling headaches, but it turns out heartache should be your bigger concern.

A study from the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre, in London, Ontario, shows employees who work the night shift have a 41% higher risk for a coronary event, while shift work in general is associated with a 23% increased risk of heart attack, 24% increase in a coronary event and a 5% increase in risk of stroke.

“[Employees] should be watchful about their cardiovascular risk factors and get their cholesterol, blood pressure, waist circumference, and blood glucose screened annually by their family physician," study leader Daniel Hackam said.

Shift work has long been known to disrupt the body clock (circadian rhythm) and is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, but its association with vascular disease is controversial, the study said. Diet was a particularly high risk factor, because people working night shifts had fewer options for buying healthy food.

“It's hard in the middle of the night to get healthy food unless you bring it in from home, because only fast-food restaurants tend to be open in the middle of the night. Particularly when they are at work, they should be eating healthy diets,” he said.

Shift workers should also try to get plenty of sleep when they are not working, exercise, and eat healthy diets, all of which can be a challenge for these workers, he said.

Employers can support staff by having healthy food options on site, and making it easier to bring food from home by providing fridges and microwaves. Education workers about healthy food options from local restaurants, or implementing a work fitness program could also help encourage workers to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

The team of international researchers analyzed the results of 34 studies involving over two million individuals to investigate the association between shift work and major vascular events. Shift work was defined as evening shifts, irregular or unspecified shifts, mixed schedules, night shifts and rotating shifts.

The frequency of shift work in the general population means that the overall risks are high. In Canada — where 32.8% of workers were on shifts during 2008-09 — 7% of heart attacks, 7.3% of all coronary events and 1.6% of ischaemic strokes could be attributed to shift work, the study found.

 

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