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Frailty: The surprising threat to female shift workers
It’s no secret that shift work is hard on the body.
After all, having to stay awake when everyone else is sleeping, and sleep when everyone else is awake, plays havoc with your circadian rhythm, which regulates hormones, mood, appetite and a multitude of other processes in the body.
That’s why shift work has been linked to health dangers ranging from heart disease, diabetes and stroke to mind-stealing plaques… and even cancer.
But up until now, we truly didn’t realize how dangerous shift work is for our bodies as a whole — especially if you’re a woman.
The combination of factors that lead to frailty
Researchers at York University set out to investigate the comprehensive connection between shift work and frailty — which is considered a holistic measure of the risk of disease and death.
Measurements of frailty look at 52 factors that can lower lifespan, like depression, osteoarthritis, history of heart attacks, mobility issues and more.
You’re considered mildly frail if you have at least five factors. If that number goes up to 11, you land in the ‘very frail’ category.
The research included a 48,000 participants whom the researcher followed up with after three years to measure for frailty. Here’s what they found…
- People who had a history of shift work had a higher likelihood of frailty compared to people who only worked daytime hours.
- More than one in four shift workers were found to be mildly frail. And an additional seven percent were very frail.
- For women, the issue was even worse. The results showed that women whose longest job consisted of rotating shift work were especially likely to be considered frail.
- More than 31 percent of female shift workers were mildly frail category.
- And approximately 11 percent of women fell into the very frail category.
According to York professor Heather Edgell, “The circadian rhythm influences your brain’s ability to control your hormones, which can influence your menopause. So, there are a lot of physiological changes that can occur because of shift work.”
An earlier study by these researchers even found that shift work may be linked to delayed menopause.
This could explain why women may face increased health risks from working outside the traditional 9-5 hours than men do.
Reducing your frailty risks
Clearly, this means that if you can avoid shift work, you’ll be doing your body a favor.
Of course, that’s not always possible.
But there are a few ways to protect yourself if you are stuck with shift work:
- Keep a set schedule rather than rotating to allow your body to adjust
- Get as much light as possible when you’re awake
- Sleep as close to the p.m. hours as you can
It’s also important to add in frailty protection, whether you’re still doing shift work or retired.
You can do this by:
#1 – Getting more vitamin D
Research has shown that low levels of vitamin D may contribute to frailty. This makes taking a quality vitamin D3 supplement and spending time in the sun a frailty-prevention priority.
#2 – Eating a Mediterranean diet
One study found that eating a Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables could help you slash your frailty risk by up to 50 percent.
#3 – Supplementing CoQ10
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is essential for charging the cellular mitochondria that serve as the body’s powerhouses. Is it any wonder then that studies have shown that older people with more symptoms or markers of frailty have less CoQ10 in their blood?
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Women working rotating shifts especially likely to be frail, York study finds – EurekAlert!