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If You Work the Night Shift

It was once thought that women working the night shift were at more risk for breast cancer, and then researchers decided this wasn't true. But a new study shows that men who work long hours under artificial lights may be a greater risk for prostate cancer.

Worldwide, countries with the highest levels of artificial light at night also have the highest rates of prostate cancer. This discovery joins the findings of a previous study by the same researchers that found a connection between exposure to artificial light at night and the incidence of breast cancer.

According to researchers, there are a number of theories that could explain the increased incidence of prostate cancer due to exposure to lighting at night, such as suppression of melatonin production, suppression of the immune system, and an effect on the body's biological clock because of confusion between night and day. Whatever the cause, there is a definite link between the two.

Researchers Abraham Haim, Boris A. Portnov and Itai Kloog all agree that "This does not mean that we have to go back to the Middle Ages and turn the lights out on the country. What it means is that this link should be taken into account in planning the country's energy policies." They add that an increased use of artificial lighting is considered by the World Health Organization as a source of environmental pollution.

And what's behind that 8 hour workday, anyway? It turns out that the circadian clock in our bodies coordinates physiological and behavioral processes on a 24-hour rhythm. Scientists know that this is what causes the phenomenon known as "jet leg." Now they think it may also be behind the 8 hour workday.

Some genes are controlled by the clock and are turned on only once every 12 or 8 hours. Researcher John Hogenesch was familiar with the 24-hour circadian cycle but says, "What was a surprise to us are the 12-hour and the 8-hour cycles." In other words, the 8 hour workday flows naturally from the way our bodies function.

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