How does long-term life undersea in a submarine affect the submariner’s body?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 06, 2020 03:48 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 06, 2020 03:48 PM

You may have noticed that the US Submarine Force recently shifted from an 18-hour work day to a 24-hour work day. I think its safe to say the Navy does not make such changes capriciously. What has happened?

There is a syndrome long associated with shift workers called multi-morbidity. That’s a fancy term for multiple chronic diseases. This occurs later in life, but its associated with a change in the circadian rhythms of shift workers due to working after dark. Recently, the South Korean Navy did a study of its submariners. It looked at the 18-hour work day, which is common to submariners around the world. The study found indications that the 18-hour work day plus the dull, monochromatic light of fluorescent light bulbs, interferes with their circadian rhythms. The study found a occurrence of multi-morbidity in submariners, later in life, of about 32%, compared to about 11% in shift workers. And the study found the effects appeared to be independent of exposure (doesn’t seem to matter how long you were on a submarine).

Is this absolute proof? Probably not. But you’re sure not going to see the US Navy or the VA take this bull by the horns. Bad publicity. Money spent on sick veterans is money not spent on weapons systems or a few extra Admirals. Remember Agent Orange? The VA (and DoD) fought against compensation for Agent Orange veterans tooth and nail. It was pure BS. Well now its proven science. It could happen for submariners, but there are relatively few of us, and it will never make it in time to help my family. Yeah, I have it. Multi-morbidity. I’m a cancer survivor, I have coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, persistent atrial fibrillation, end-stage renal disease (yeah, dialysis three times a week, a half day at a time), and asthma – and they continue to look for and find other things.

I hope I’ve helped some of you, at least to know what may be happening to you. I’ve been in forums like this before – we’ll get some commenters, some of them brother submariners, who have been favored with good health in their old age. Some of them believe its because they are rugged and anyone who goes to the VA is a free-loader. They will ridicule the Korean study and trust in the old USN. Don’t pay any attention to these comments. They’re just noise. I’m sure we’ll get some thoughtful commenters too.

I wish you fair winds and a following sea.

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