The connection between shift work and certain cancers is widely acknowledged, but little has been known about the effects of shift work on reproductive health and fertility. Now, a new study examining working shift patterns and menstrual disruption and subfertility has been conducted by researchers from the University of Southampton (UK).
The study, which was based on data from 119,345 women, compares the impact of non-standard working schedules with those women not working shifts. The researchers focused on early reproductive outcome parameters, including menstrual dysregulation, fertility, and miscarriage rates.
The researchers found that those working shifts (alternating shifts, evenings and nights) had a 33 percent higher rate of menstrual disruption than those working regular hours and an 80 percent increased rate of sub-fertility. Researcher Linden Stocker described the findings as "novel," and suggested that they have implications for women attempting to become pregnant, as well as for their employers.
Stocker did caution that while the findings showed a link, this did not mean that the shift work itself was responsible. "Whilst we have demonstrated an association between shift work and negative early reproductive outcomes, we have not proven causation. In humans, the long-term effects of altering circadian rhythms are inherently difficult to study. However, if our results are confirmed by other studies, there may be implications for shift workers and their reproductive plans. More friendly shift patterns with less impact on circadian rhythm could be adopted where practical - although the optimal shift pattern required to maximize reproductive potential is yet to be established."
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Source: European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology