However as much as we may like to, we can’t always blame sleep deprivation for our embattled immune systems – not entirely anyway.
For all of the sugar lovers out there (you’re not going to like me after sharing this), but several research studies have confirmed that there’s a strong link between high sugar consumption, and the suppression of the body’s immune system.
Yep I know what you’re thinking – bugger!
The harsh reality is that for many shift workers, sugar can be our nemesis.
As we wander around in a zombie state, we often reach for a sugar-laden drink or packet of lollies to help boost our energy (be it only temporary) to get us through our shift. Unfortunately this ends up having a negative effect on our health – in particular our immune system health.
You see a diet which is made up of poor dietary choices – an overconsumption of empty calories (junk food), and refined sugars and artificial sweeteners ultimately leads to nutritional deficiencies and a suppressed immune system.
Overconsumption of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners in particular:
- Causes major disruption to our gut microbiota or bacteria (80% of our immune system is found in the gut). This dysbiosis in our intestinal tract causes an imbalance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria which weakens our body’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens that enter our body.
- Increases inflammation in the body – the number one reason for the onset of many auto-immune diseases.
- Inhibits phagocytosis (the process by which viruses and bacteria are engulfed by white blood cells) – a fundamentally important driving force in our immune system.
Of course we cannot forget to mention that shift work alone places unwanted stress on the body and knocks the immune system around as our nervous system is continually on high-alert pumping out excess amounts of adrenalin and cortisol to enable us to function day after day, night after night.
The continual disruption to our circadian rhythm or natural sleep cycle is exactly why our diets need to be even more superior and healthier than the average nine-to-fiver who has the added luxury of receiving additional hours of immunity boosting sleep!
So the next time you reach your hand in the “hidden” goodies drawer at work, or grab yourself a bag full of jelly beans, snakes or marshmallows to munch on – please remember they’re not your friend.
Over time, these sugar fixes are only weakening and depleting your immune system when in actual fact – it desperately needs a bit of nurturing and TLC in order to increase your resilience so that you are able to work and function in a world that runs on very little sleep.
Fast Food Fever: Reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity (Nutrition Journal)