The traditional 9-to-5 job is no longer the sole ‘norm’. Shift work, involving irregular hours or night shifts, has become a part of many industries. While it accommodates around-the-clock demands, its impact on health remains a topic of concern.
The human body operates on an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. A mechanism that regulates various physiological functions, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone production, and body temperature. This rhythm syncs with the natural light-dark cycle, crucial for maintaining overall health. Individuals engaged in shift work, such as nurses, emergency responders, and others, confront a constant challenge to this natural rhythm. They often work during the night or irregular hours, disrupting their body’s internal clock and throwing their circadian rhythms out of balance.
The MS Puzzle
Multiple Sclerosis, an autoimmune condition affecting the central nervous system, has shown intriguing links to circadian rhythms. Studies indicate that disruptions in these rhythms might contribute to the development or exacerbation of MS symptoms. Recent research has shown a correlation between individuals engaged in shift work and an increased risk of developing MS. The disturbance in circadian rhythms from irregular work hours appears to act as a potential trigger, heightening vulnerability to MS.
A 2015 study examined data from Swedish population registers, analyzing around 2 million individuals. Researchers found a modestly increased risk of MS among individuals working irregular or long hours, particularly in specific occupations like nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers who frequently engage in shift work (Hedström et al., 2015).
Mechanisms at Play
Researchers speculate on various mechanisms driving this connection. Disrupted sleep patterns, reduced exposure to natural light, altered melatonin production, and increased stress levels are among the factors that may link irregular work hours to the onset or progression of MS. Ongoing research looks deeper into understanding the relationship between circadian disruptions and MS susceptibility. Innovative interventions, tailored scheduling, and workplace adjustments may present a potential avenue to preserve the health of shift workers.
The interplay between circadian rhythms and MS risk emphasizes the need for proactive measures, informed policies, and continued research to preserve the health of individuals engaged in non-traditional work schedules. By understanding this relationship, future studies could investigate ways to develop new strategies and/or interventions to protect circadian rhythms and overall health.
Written by Katie Goddard
Hedström, A. K., Åkerstedt, T., Olsson, T., & Alfredsson, L. (2015). Shift work influences multiple sclerosis risk. Multiple sclerosis (Houndmills, Basingstoke, England), 21(9), 1195–1199. https://doi.org/10.1177/1352458514563592 Pivovarova-Ramich, O., Zimmermann, H. G., & Paul, F. (2023). Multiple sclerosis and circadian rhythms: Can diet act as a treatment?. Acta physiologica (Oxford, England), 237(4), e13939. https://doi.org/10.1111/apha.13939