by S. Fenella Das Gupta, Ph.D., Neuroscience
Shift workers, what would we do without them? All the doctors, nurses, firefighters, ambulance staff, restaurant employees- the list is endless and their work needed. But shift workers have to deal with a lot more than working socially odd hours. The very nature of the work causes a ripple that is felt throughout one’s life. Changes in diet, sleep, exercise, relationships may all be affected. And now recent evidence suggests that women’s reproductive health may also be at risk.
Findings from the University of Southampton, U.K., suggest that working a rotating shift is linked to a 33 percent greater rate of menstrual disruption and an 80 percent greater rate of sub-fertility. If accurate, these figures are astounding and need our attention.
The meta analysis was performed by Cheong and Stocker et al., who reviewed 14 studies published between 1969 and 2013 that investigated the links between shift work (defined as anything outside 8 a.m. and 6 p.m) and menstrual disruption (defined as cycles of less than 24 days and cycles of 32 or more days). All together, the studies included nearly 120,000 women.
Results indicated that although working the night- shift was not tied to menstrual issues or problems becoming pregnant, it was linked to a greater risk of miscarriage.
How and Why?
While shift work is not directly the cause of the fertility disruption, women who work irregular shifts may be vulnerable with respect to loss of sleep, poorer diet and decreased exercise. As a result, it is possible that the physiological changes that may then occur directly disrupt the circadian rhythm. Changes in biological functioning such as this, ironically, can cause a shift in fertility.
These results aren’t intended to alarm those who have to work irregular hours, but rather to understand all the factors that leave someone at risk.
Stocker said that women who do shift work should not stress about the new findings, particularly until future studies have replicated the results. She states "We know that many things can help improve reproductive outcomes -- a well-balanced diet, exercise and looking after yourself generally," she said. "Whilst we wait for future studies to prove or disprove our findings, it's important that women focus on their overall health."
Perhaps overall, these findings further underline the need to approach women’s reproductive health in a holistic manner.
Fenella Das Gupta is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in Northern California, specializing in fertility counseling. She works with individuals and couples as they make their way through the fertility maze. The other part of her work includes making fertility issues a newsworthy item, as she writes for the Petaluma Patch-a subsidiary of the Huffington Post. To read more about fertility issues in the news go to http://petaluma.patch.com/users/fenella-das-gupta-phd-neuroscience-mft/blog_posts