Well just to put your mind at rest – you’re not imagining things!
It’s called circadian rhythm misalignment, and it’s a nemesis for many shift workers around the world.
Circadian misalignment is when our endogenous or internal body clock is not consistent with our current environment or behaviour. For example, a shift worker is often up when the sun is down, or eating during the night when everyone else is tucked into bed and sound asleep.
In other words – we’re doing everything backwards.
Our circadian rhythms operate in 24 hour cycles under the masterful instruction of our core master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus which is located in the brain, just below the hypothalamus*.
Besides being very hard to pronounce, this nucleus is responsible for coordinating all of our internal rhythms or clocks in a synchronized way, and talks to other tissues within the body which have their own internal clock oscillators such as the gastrointestinal tract or GIT.
And here lies the problem for shift workers.
Circadian rhythms affect important functions of the gut including gastric acid secretion, motility, gut mucosa protection, immunology and the production of digestive enzymes which are essential for the breakdown and absorption of nutrients.
Changes in these circadian rhythms due to shift work have been associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea.
Not fabulous news to hear if you’re a shift worker.
So what can you do to help alleviate the symptoms? By implementing a gut healing diet of sorts. And whilst I don’t like to use the word “diet”, I will use it in this context to help explain my point.
- Limiting consumption of highly processed and refined foods
- Reducing intake of inflammatory foods such as sugar, gluten and dairy
- Drinking a minimum of 2 litres of filtered water each day to help maintain bowel regularity
- Including more “gut healing foods” into your diet such as organically grown fruits and vegetables, home-made bone broths, fermented yoghurts, pasture-raised meats and natural healing fats such as butter, olive oil and avocados – to name a few.
In a nutshell, the above is like an adaption of the GAPS diet (which stands for gut and psychology syndrome) which is recommended by Nutritionists for clients who have serious gastrointestinal issues. Whilst our “issues” may not be serious per se, at the end of the day, our gastrointestinal system is affected by circadian rhythm disruption so nurturing this vitally important part of our body has never been more important for those who are working 24/7.
* Konturek, P, Brzozowski, T & Konturek S 2011, ‘Gut Clock: Implication of circadian rhythms in the gastrointestinal tract’, Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, vol. 62, no. 2, pp. 139-150.