Scientists from Texas A&M University found shift workers’ constantly changing schedules make it tough for their biological clocks to keep accurate time. The results could make the negative effects of a high-fat diet even more pronounced
The research is published in the FASEB Journal and was conducted by David Earnest et al.
About 15 million Americans don’t have a typical nine-to-five workday, and many of them—nurses, firefighters, and flight attendants, among other professions—may see their schedule change drastically from one week to the next.
Biological clocks are located in virtually all cells in the body, controlling circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycles that regulate the timing of sleepiness, hunger, and many other physiological processes, including inflammation and metabolism.
The team’s earlier research indicated that when the internal clock is completely disrupted—meaning it can’t keep time at all—there is a cascade of problems, especially to how the immune cells mediate inflammation.
The current research indicates that shift work has similar effects on immune cell clocks and their inflammatory responses.
The researchers used a model of shift work in which cycles were reversed every five days.
They say that the body just can’t keep up with that kind of disruption.
The same effects are likely true any time there is a routine change in schedule, like what we call ‘social jet lag,’ where people stay up late on the weekends and then have to shift back to an earlier schedule during the week for work or school.
Although the study focused on immune cells, the implications go far beyond fighting off invading pathogens.
Instead, altering our internal clocks exacerbates inflammatory responses that lead to the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes.
Related research has indicated that shift workers may be at higher risk of severe stroke.
Compounding the problem may be what people who go to parties or work at night choose to eat. Fatty foods can cause the clock to lag further behind normal time, imposing mistimed cycles on many body processes.
The results indicate possible ways to reduce inflammation and help shift workers avoid some of the metabolic effects of their schedules.
The researchers hope that they can find therapeutics to cancel out some of the problems caused by circadian rhythm disturbances.
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