Study Finds Increased Cortisol Levels in Shift Workers

A new study joins the chorus of other research that suggests shift workers may face potential health concerns. In this case, researchers at a medical center in the Netherlands point to long-term, elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, found in shift workers, which could increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, diabetes, hypertension or obesity.

“Our findings show that cortisol might play an important part in the development of obesity and increased cardiovascular risk for those working in shifts,” said Laura Manenschijn, M.D., of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and lead author of the study. “Unraveling the role of cortisol in the health problems found in shift workers could result in new approaches to prevent cardiovascular damage in this specific group.”

Researchers collected and extracted cortisol from the hair samples of 33 shift workers and 89 day workers. They found that long-term cortisol levels were “significantly increased” in those employees working in shifts, especially in study participants younger than 40 years.

This is the first study that shows that working in shifts leads to changes in long-term cortisol levels, suggesting that the stress hormone cortisol might be one of the factors contributing to the increased cardiovascular risks of shift workers.

The study, “Shift work at young age is associated with elevated long-term cortisol levels and body mass index,” will be published in the November 2011 issue of The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

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