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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Nightshift 'link' to ulcers
stomach ulcer
Stomach ulcers have been linked with cancer
Working nightshifts or losing sleep might contribute to peptic ulcers, the results of a research study suggest.

Scientists found that levels of a key protein associated with healing damage to the wall of the gut fluctuated depending on the time of day or night.

Levels in the stomach juices appear to be highest during sleeping hours.

The fact that the body produces the protein in line with the Circadian rhythms that control when people sleep and wake up may mean that people who disrupt those rhythms, either through work, a hectic nightlife, or regular long-distance travel, could be missing out on the healing their stomach needs.

The research team, at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, found this "dramatic" variation by analysing the stomach contents of volunteers.

The mean concentration of the protein, called TFF2, was lowest in the early evening. However, by the early hours of the morning it had risen by more than 2400%.

Dr Felicity May, who led the research, said: "It would make sense that the business of repairing damage to the stomach lining should take place during sleep, rather than just after a meal.

"We were surprised to see it linked so strongly linked to Circadian rhythms."

Some studies have linked sleep disruption such as shift work to a higher incidence of gastro-intestinal upsets.

And stomach ulceration has been strongly linked with an increased risk of gastric cancer.

But researchers into cancer are still unsure of the precise role of TFF2 in the development of this.

Healing process

They know that the protein can be found both clustering in greater quantities around ulcers as part of the healing process, and also in tumour cells, suggesting that TFF2 may play a role in triggering cancerous cell changes.

Whether ulcers whose growth is helped by a lack of the protein could then be the venue for cancerous changes caused by the same chemical, is still a mystery to researchers.

A spokesman for the Cancer Research Campaign said research was concentrating on the role of a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (H pylori), in the development of ulcers.

She said: "One study of 21,000 men found 40% of them had been infected with H pylori.

"They were found to have approximately a fourfold increase in the risk of stomach cancer."

She added: "We believe that if we can screen for H pylori, we can first eradicate it in those who are infected, and then keep an eye on them for signs of cancer."

The research was published in the journal Gut.

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