Dr. Basawantrao Malipatil, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road
Working night shifts have often been believed to result in poor health. However, extensive research suggests, night shifts also increase the risk of contracting cancer, especially in women. Research suggests that women working night shifts are five times more prone to contracting cancer of the skin, lungs and breast. This occurs because working night shifts disrupts the circadian rhythm of an individual. Circadian rhythm is the internal clock that over a period of 24 hours regulates the body’s physiological process in response to the light and dark in the environment.
When the circadian rhythm becomes abnormal, it impairs two types of tumour suppressing genes that initiate tumour growth. This rhythm, which is also known as the master clock of the body, comprises of 20,000 nerve cells in the brain known collectively as the superchiasmatic nucleus. From the hypothalamus, this nucleus then receives information from the retina about the light and dark levels in the environment. This information is then transferred to the cells of the body. Two types of genes – Bmal1 and Per2 are major players responsible for regulating this clock. The genes Bmal1 is responsible for activating the gene Per2 which in turn activates the biological processes in the body such as circadian rhythm, metabolism and cell division. Both these factors, scientists believe, are the hallmarks of cancer. The proteins that are encoded by these genes fluctuate when they receive the light signal through the retina during the day. These fluctuations are affected when the light and dark cycles are disrupted. The cells need a ray of light, which when not received, hampers the normal functioning of each cell in the body.
An impaired circadian rhythm also leads to nocturnal melatonin suppression that acts as a carcinogen. Melatonin, which is responsible for preventing tumour growth by way of anti-oxidation and immunity regulation, when its natural secretion process is hampered due to exposure to artificial light during night time, it results in considerably increase to the risk of cancer.
In addition to an added risk of cancer, working night shifts also makes me susceptible to major health problems such as obesity, insomnia, heart diseases, hypertension, etc. A study undertaken by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found a link between individuals working rotating night shifts and an increased risk of death by lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. It is thus, important for females working night shifts to undergo regular health check-ups and cancer screenings.
Staying awake at night and sleeping in the day hampers the basic physiological functions of the body rendering a build-up of stress. A lot of research has been undertaken worldwide that suggests nutritional, hormonal, cardiac, digestive and metabolic irregularities in people working the night shift. Mood swings, hypertension and obesity are some other most common health conditions that plague individuals working the night shift.
If your profession or workplace gives no option other than to work nights, one will have to look out for adjustments in other aspects of their lifestyle in order to stay healthy and reduce the risks associated with such erratic work hours and sleep pattern.
Having a balanced diet – plant-based diets are believed to be more cancer friendly. The Mediterranean diet is the most cancer-friendly diet. This diet includes plant-based products – legumes like chickpeas, lentils, beans, etc. whole-wheat grains, non-starchy vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits.
Keeping one’s weight in check – With age, one tends to lose more muscle mass and lose fewer calories especially in cases of a lifestyle that involves less physical activity. In order to keep one’s weight in check, the calorie intake should be carefully monitored. This entails consuming smaller portions of food while ensuring the body is provided with all the necessary nutrients that are required. If one is losing weight at a rapid rate that does not necessarily indicate a good sign. To be sure if you are not also losing muscle mass, it is advisable to approach a nutritionist who will suggest a proper diet plan and physical activity chart to achieve the desired results.
Ensure adequate physical activity for the body – Exercise should be considered an important part of one’s daily routine. Minimum 30 minutes to one hour should be dedicated to exercising daily. Adequate physical activity is known to automatically reduce the risk of contracting 13 different types of cancers.
By following the above-mentioned guidelines, one does not only reduce the risk of cancer but also a number of chronic diseases that are easily preventable. Regular tests, a proper sleep pattern, a decent physical activity routine coupled with the intake of a balanced diet can all help in enhancing one’s quality of life. In addition to these factors, regular health check-ups and tests should be undertaken to be able to diagnose any problem well in time.