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How Shift Work Changes Your Body Clock

When you’re on the night shift, do you notice that you feel different? If you’re always on nights, do feel like you’re always battling your weight? Research out of the University of Missouri School of Medicine may provide insight into why and why shift-workers are at a higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. Turns out that the metabolic changes that occur during night-shift work creates confusion between cells in the body and the central clock in the brain.

“We hypothesized that the messages cells produce and send each other during night work are different than those sent during the day shift,” said study author David Gozal, MD, in a prepared statement. “These messages come via microscopic packages called exosomes. Our study found these packages disrupt the synchronicity of the body’s systems during night shifts and cause increased insulin resistance and other health issues.”

To do this, 14 participants were assigned three days of a simulated day shift or night shift. Afterward, researchers drew their blood every 3 hours, extracting exosomes from the plasma and delivering them into naïve fat cells to examine any potential changes to the fat cells and the key genes that affect metabolism. They found that exosomes taken from the night-shift participants reduced insulin sensitivity of the fat cells. They also discovered that those exosomes contained specialized gene regulators called microRNAs that shifted the internal clock of the fat cells.

“The cells in your body do not adjust as quickly as the central clock in the brain to shifts in sleep patterns,” Gozal said. “So when night-shift workers abruptly shift back and forth to daytime hours on the weekend, the cells in the body continue to send messages to each other through exosomes that lag behind the central clock. It creates a condition called ‘circadian misalignment,’ which is associated with an increased risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses.”

Could this be the key to shift personalization?

Exosomes could help identify who is better suited to work the night shift. “By sampling the blood of workers at different times of the day and examining their exosomes, we might be able to identify whether they are misaligned,” Gozal said. “And this discovery raises the possibility of developing personalized shift schedules and also gene-targeted therapeutic approaches to prevent the long-term health complications of night-shift work.”

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