Shift work and cardiovascular risk

It is well-known that shift workers have increased risk factors for serious heart disease, for example as reported in Knuttson’s 1986 Lancet paper on papermill workers. They are more likely to smoke and tend to have higher blood pressure, cholesterol and weight and be more likely to have diabetes than  workers whose work pattern is confined to the daytime. They are also more likely to have insomnia, itself an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Clinical pharmacologist Daniel Hackem from Ontario and his colleagues from Norway, Sweden and the USA had now raised further public and health professional interest in this disease link in a paper published in the British Medical Journal.

They looked at 34 previous studies of over 2 million shiftworkers. Together, there were over 17,000 heart events, over 6000 heart attacks and almost 2000 strokes. They concluded that stroke risk was around 5% higher and coronary event risk 24% higher in the shift-workers. Surprisingly, despite their large dataset, the researchers found no associated increase in mortality.

They take care to point out, as with any other observational study, that this is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship. People who take on shift work may be different in some unconnected way that puts up risk of vascular disease. Lower socio-economic status is an obvious important confounder. The work itself may be more stressful, at the same time as their being fewer other staff members in support ‘out of hours’. Shift workers may also take more caffeine to try to stay alert during often long shifts.

Nonetheless there are several key messages reinforced by this report.

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What works as healthy lifestyle for losing excess weight?

A good time to get weight in trim? New Year is a familiar love_heart_cover_medtime for people to make resolutions and aims to improve lifestyle.

However advice on how to lose excess weight may be confusing and contradictory. Here is some helpful information on why overweight may be unhealthy and what works to help to reduce overweight.

Why bother about overweight?
Excess weight increases the burden of cardiovascular risk (high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and diabetes mellitus); causes premature ageing of arteries, leading to heart attacks, strokes and other serious disorders of the heart, brain and circulation; contributes to risk of sleep dusturbance and sleep apnoea syndrome; causes premature joint ageing with arthritis; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the commonest cause worldwide of liver damage; and increased risk of cancers – weight gain and overweight estimated to be linked to 1 in 5 cancers.
People who have no difficulty in maintaining normal weight may find it difficult to understand the challenges. For those who are currently overweight, the challenges in regaining a more healthy weight include beating the psychological, physical and social addiction to causes of overweight, and resisting peer pressure.

Getting started
Importants steps on the path to reducing excess weight include being ready to think about action, to think about taking action and to prepare to take action. That might mean telling friends and family you are serious about losing weight, and to seek whatever help may work – e.g.  family doctor or nurse or other health professional, and support groups for the overweight.