Epidemiology of urinary melatonin in women and its relation to other hormones and night work

Eva S Schernhammer, Bernard Rosner, Walter C Willett, Francine Laden, Graham A Colditz, Susan E Hankinson
Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2004, 13 (6): 936-43

OBJECTIVE: Light exposure during night work suppresses melatonin production, and night work has been associated with an increased cancer risk. There is little information, however, about the interrelationships of night work, urinary melatonin levels, and levels of plasma steroid hormones in women.

METHOD: We examined the reproducibility of morning urinary measurements of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin over a 3-year period in 80 premenopausal women. We assessed correlations between average urinary melatonin and plasma steroid hormone levels and evaluated potential associations between night work and hormone levels, using current and long-term shift work information from two large, prospective cohorts, the Nurses' Health Study cohorts.

RESULTS: The intraclass correlation for creatinine-adjusted 6-sulfatoxymelatonin was 0.72 (95% confidence interval, 0.65, 0.82). We found significantly increased levels of estradiol after longer durations of night work (geometric mean levels of estradiol, 8.8 pg/mL for women who never worked night shifts versus 10.1 pg/mL for women who worked 15 or more years of night shifts; P for trend = 0.03). We observed a significant inverse association between increasing number of nights worked within the 2 weeks preceding urine collection and urinary melatonin levels (r = -0.30, P = 0.008), but no association of recent night work with estradiol (r = 0.10, P = 0.41).

CONCLUSION: A single morning urinary melatonin measurement is a reasonable marker for long-term melatonin levels among premenopausal women. Women who work on rotating night shifts seem to experience changes in hormone levels that may be associated with the increased cancer risk observed among night-shift workers.

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