Purpose: To assess an independent relationship between shift work and serum lipid levels.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Setting: Two plants of northern France: a chemical one and a nuclear power station.
Participants: All the shift workers of the chemical plant and of one part of the nuclear station. One hundred nine persons were selected, 25 were excluded or absent during the study, and 11 refused to participate. Day workers matched with shift workers according to age, educational level, birthplace, and occupational physical activity level served as controls; 109 were selected, 26 were excluded or absent, and 10 refused to participate.
Main outcome measures: Fasting venous plasma concentration of total cholesterol, triglyceride, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol; dietary intake assessed by a 3-day record, smoking habits, and body mass index (BMI).
Results: Shift workers had significantly higher levels of serum triglyceride (1.26 versus 1.03 mmol/L, p = 0.01). Cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels were similar for the two groups. There was no difference in energy and nutrient intake, but day workers had a higher alcohol intake (15.64 g/d versus 9.3 g/d, p = 0.03). Multivariate analysis conducted with triglycerides as dependent variable and shift work, BMI, smoking, age, leisure time physical activity level, energy intake, and alcohol intake as independent variables confirmed that shift work has a significant explanatory power for triglyceride levels (beta = 0.134, p = 0.0005).
Conclusion: This study confirms that shift work is associated with an increase of triglyceride levels independent of dietary intake. We did not find any influence of shift work on cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. Despite this latter fact, our findings are to be considered in the explanation of coronary risk among shift workers. Further studies are needed to elucidate the mechanism of this relative hypertriglyceridemia: stress induced by shift work or diurnal rhythm disturbances.