With the economy still negatively impacting those over 65, many retirees are heading back to work. Some of them are finding it hard to find jobs, so they're taking late-night jobs. If this describes you or a loved one, a new study says these jobs can lead to cancer.
According to this study, the graveyard shift may increase your speed to the graveyard. Yes, we are on a one-way ticket there, but our goal is to slow the process. Defying natural rhythms is one way to speed up the process. It's a surprise finding in a concept once considered crazy. Research has found higher rates of prostate and breast cancer among people whose work day is during nighttime hours. So the World Health Organization is adding nighttime shifts to the list of probable carcinogens.
Richard Stevens was among the first to notice a link. He was a cancer epidemiologist and professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center. In 1987, he published a paper suggesting a link between light at night and breast cancer. He was trying to figure out why breast cancer incidence suddenly shot up starting in the 1930s in industrialized societies. During that time, people considered nighttime work a hallmark of progress.
His proposal bewildered most scientists. Now they understand. In recent years, several studies have found that women working at night over many years were indeed more prone to breast cancer. Also, animals that have their light-dark schedules switched develop more cancerous tumors. They die earlier.
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Scientists suspect that overnight work disrupts the circadian rhythm, your body's biological clock. Your body normally produces the hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, at night. And your sleep cycle encourages healthy cell division and repair process. Disrupting these natural time-linked processes is likely dangerous.
I have little doubt that melatonin is involved. Your pineal gland is buried deep within your brain. It makes this hormone clearly linked to sleep and cancer protection. Exposure to light after it's dark affects melatonin production.
So what's the solution? You might think that taking more while you're off the graveyard shift is the remedy. I think not. It might suppress what melatonin your pineal is still producing. My suggestion is to avoid graveyard shifts where possible. And if you can't, make sure that your compensation reflects the increased risk you are compelled to take working that shift! You'll also want to make sure you're eating a great diet and taking supplements that help fight cancer.