Monday, December 3, 2012

NHS: Once Again, Nurses Come Through

I recently received my annual newsletter from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), a long-standing research project on women’s lifestyles and health out of Boston. Over the years, the study has evolved into three sections, engaging nurses from three age groups. 
The newsletter presents a number of important findings that wouldn’t have been possible without the participation of thousands of nurses.

NHS I began in 1976 with funding from the National Institutes of Health to investigate the potential long-term consequences of the use of oral contraceptives. Registered nurses were chosen as a cohort because of their motivation and ability to respond with a high degree of accuracy to technically-worded questionnaires. About 122,000 (out of the 170,000 contacted) agreed to participate. A nutritional component to the study was added later.

NHS II was established in 1989, again with NIH funding, to study oral contraceptives, diet and lifestyle risk factors in a population younger than the original NHS cohort. Today, there remain almost 117,000 registered nurses in this study.

In 2010, NHS III, entirely web-based, was established in collaboration with the Channing Laboratory and the Harvard School of Public Health. LPN/LVNs are also included in this study, as well as Canadian nurses. NHS III aims to include more minorities, and will closely look at health issues related to lifestyle, fertility/pregnancy, environment and workplace conditions and schedules.

The latest finding from NHS II is that the use of aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen is associated with an increased risk of hearing loss in women. (This association had already been established in men; this is the first study involving women.)

If you are a member of any of the studies, you can pat yourself on the back. You have, once again, contributed to an important body of knowledge about women’s lifestyles and how they relate to health.

Other recent NHS findings, according to the newsletter, include:

• One daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with 13 percent increased risk of mortality, and one daily serving of processed red meat a 20 percent increased risk of mortality. 
• Among night-shift workers, there is a 24 percent higher risk of developing diabetes, and a 1-pound gain for every five years on the this shift.
• Women who regularly drink caffeinated coffee were less likely to develop depression, compared with women who drank only one cup or less per week.
• Women who drink 5.0-9.9 grams of alcohol per day (equal to three to six glasses of wine a week) have a modest increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with greater consumption of alcohol, regardless of the type.
• Women who have subjective complaints about their memories also scored lower on neuropsychological tests.

NHS researchers also are exploring the possibility of obtaining Medicare information on costs, diagnoses and treatments to “better identify optimal prevention strategies and ways to reduce health care costs.” For example, is the cost of health care over time less expensive for women who eat a healthier diet?

The NHS is a standout among research because no other study has had more participants or been conducted as long.

The NHS III is enrolling female RNs, LPNs or nursing students who are between the ages 20 and 46 and live in the United States or Canada. More than 25,000 have enrolled so far, but researchers need more participants. NHS III will examine fertility and pregnancy; occupational exposures and chronic diseases; and the role of adolescent diet in the development of diseases such as breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Visit

Are you participating in any of the NHS research?

Is so, why?

What would you say to a nurse who is thinking of joining NHS III?

Tell us about it.

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