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Friday, November 30, 2007

Bad news: Working nights linked with cancer; Good news: research may lead to cure for aging

Now we night shift hospital workers have yet another incentive to get off nights.

According to theAssociated Press, and research that shows an increase in cancer among night shift workers compared to people who work normal shifts, the World Health Organization is now including working night shift among its list of carcinogens. The American Cancer society states it will soon follow.

Some scientists say this is not necessarily true. However, based on my own research regarding melatonin, I'm leaning towards believing it.

Research on this is very new and quite vague, as researchers and scientists don't even know at what point working nights increases the risk of getting diseases, nor whether if one stops working nights his disease risk factors diminish or simply go away, nor if it's even linked to the disease process at all.

I wrote recently that I might try melatonin for my self diagnosed circadium rhythm sleep disorder, but instead of simply listening to my co-workers (and some of you bloggers) who told me it worked well, I decided to research it first. As it turns out, scientists have stated they know so little about melatonin that they really don't recommend that people take it more often than they really need it -- if at all.

The reason is because that while it may help you fall asleep, and while it may help you stay asleep, it's naturally produced by the body, and by you putting artificial melatonin in your body now who knows what effect that might have on your melatonin production in the future.

Not only that, but many studies have shown that people with neuro diseases, cardiac diseases and cancer have proven to have lower levels of melatonin. What they do not know is whether it is the disease process that causes the melatonin to decrease, or if it's low levels of melatonin that causes the disease states.

Older theories believed that melatonin decreased with age, and some scientists theorized that this might be what ultimately causes aging (and diseases). While melatonin is still considered to be linked with aging, it is no longer believed to decrease with age.

Thus, if someone has a low melatonin, something else must be going on other than that someone is just getting older, and lack of sleep might be one such causes of this.

Much research suggests that melatonin might be linked with aging and disease, and as further studies are completed, the study of melatonin might even lead to a cure to aging.

The reason they think this is because melatonin is an antioxident, which prevents the breakdown of cells. And, if we can prevent this from occurring, we can prevent cells from aging and diseases from forming.

If this leads in the direction we hope, this could result in major scientific breakthroughs that will benefit millions of people. Who knows, maybe it will put some of us medical workers out of jobs.

One expert suggested that you get your melatonin tested, because if it's normal you shouldn't take synthetic melatonin pills, because if your body thinks it is making too much melatonin, it will shut down production of natural melatonin. And when you stop taking synthetic melatonin, your body won't know enough to continue making its own.

Another expert wrote that melatonin can't be tested, because levels vary at different times of the day. So, as you can see, the experts vary in opinion regarding how to prescribe melatonin.

My thinking is, if you work a swing shift and are rarely getting enough sleep, you might as well assume your melatonin is low and take a small dose of melatonin to help you sleep. If nothing else, perhaps it will keep your melatonin levels closer to a normal level so you (hopefully) decrease your chances of getting lack of sleep related diseases.

Still, while scientists note that melatonin does not have the side effects of other sleep aids for most people, they still do not know the long term implications of using it.

One site I found had complicated recommendations for using melatonin, and recommend using it every day at different times of day. I'm not a fan of taking it that often.

Another site I found seemed more realistic, and stated that it's best to take melatonin the first day you are trying to adjust to sleeping days. This should allow your body to adjust back to sleeping days, and no further melatonin should be needed to help you sleep.

You should therefore not use it again until you want to adjust back to nights, and then you should (ideally) not need it again until you need to adjust back to a normal schedule.

My thinking is if your miserable due to lack of sleep, you might as well try it. Because having a little synthetic melatonin in your system a few days a week and risking whatever long term implications might result from this is far better than all the negative side effects that come from not sleeping at all.

In a way, it's kind of like giving small doses of steroids to asthma and COPD patients. While the small dose increases the quality of their life, studies have shown that having a small dose of synthetic steroid in your body is relatively safe.

That's my take on it. Let me know if you think otherwise.


Djanvk said...

Great you just gave me another reason to look for a day position. I don't want any reason to help me get cancer. I am so printing that out from my coworker.

sometimesibreathe said...

I read that night shifts linked to cancer also in the AJC. My first thought was "Damnit." My second thought was "wait...everything causes cancer."

Working night shift still appeals to me.

Freadom said...

I also read another article that said working nights is not linked with cancer.

I love working nights. Someday we'll find out that blogging causes cancer.