Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode:
This week I chat about my all time favourite topic – Food Timing, or the more fancier, scientific way to describe it is Chrononutrition.
Chrononutrition involves the study of how nutrition impacts on our metabolism, via our internal body clock, which includes meal regularity (or in the case of a shift worker, meal irregularity), frequency and clock time.
Eating out of sync to our body’s natural circadian clock is very common in those who work 24/7 (thanks to some pretty crazy rosters), however this can disrupt our metabolism leading to weight gain as our body is not geared up for night-time energy and nutrient consumption.
Over time, it can also contribute to gut disturbances and various chronic diseases such as peptic ulcer disease and type 2 diabetes, both of which are quite prevalent in the shift working population.
So tune in to hear my biggest tip in helping to overcome weight gain whilst working 24/7, and why as weird as it sounds, we need to be thinking of ourselves as walking clocks … because as human beings, that’s exactly what we are – finely tuned walking clocks.
Resources mentioned on the podcast:
The Obesity Code, by Dr Jason Fung available through Amazon
To book a Healthy Shift Worker Consultation with Audra Click Here.
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As the blaring sound of an alarm clock pierces the serene and tranquil silence of the bedroom, a fatigue riddled body stirs beneath the warmth and comfort of a beautiful, yet hidden sleep sanctuary – otherwise known as a doona.
The body struggles to move, as every muscle and every limb aches from relentless fatigue.
Turning towards the clock positioned on the bedside table – their heart sinks with disappointment.
There must be some kind of mistake.
It cannot be.
Surely there are way more hours left before the start of our next shift?
It is after all, only 3am.
This scene I’ve described above, no doubt sounds familiar if you’re reading this post right now.
In fact, as a fellow shift worker, I’m sure it resonates with you in more ways than one.
And whilst many of us would refer to this as a typical “day” or a typical “night” whilst working 24/7, I’m going to call it something else.
I’m going to refer to it as continual circadian rhythm dysregulation. In other words, the recurrent disruption to our natural sleep/wake cycle as a result of working long and erratic hours.
Before I set out on this journey of studying Nutrition, I was fairly adamant (actually my husband would say stubborn), that all we really needed to be healthy was to consume a diet which encompassed a variety of whole foods, void of chemicals and pesticides.
Kind of simple really.
However as I embark on my final year of this degree, and after spending close to 2 years reading peer reviewed research studies on shift workers, I have to admit my views on this have changed – particularly if you happen to work shift work.
My reasons for this are many, some of which include the following:
- How many of us really eat healthy diets? If you work 24/7, chances are you often feel too tired to cook and prepare foods that are packed with nutritional punch. A bowl of pasta or a slice of toast can often appear on the dining table of many a shift worker who comes home after work, too tired to do anything except pop a slice of bread into the toaster or maybe boil some water if we’re lucky!
- The saying “we are what we eat” is true to a degree, but we’re also what we absorb, and for many of us, this is where shift workers are a little more vulnerable to those who work 9-5. This is because our meal times differ to the normal circadian phases of gastrointestinal functions (e.g. gastric, bile and pancreatic secretions, enzyme activity, intestinal motility, rate of absorption of nutrients, hunger and satiety hormones etc.) which often leads to malabsorption of nutrients. This malabsorption can lead to nutritional deficiencies, even if we’re eating well.
- Sleep deprivation affects our nutritional intake, digestion and absorption of foods which is why digestive problems are one of the most frequently complained conditions experienced by shift workers (20-75% vs. 10-25% of day workers). Common complaints by shift workers include changes in bowel habits (mainly constipation), whilst others include difficulties in digestion and flatulence, to more severe disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulcer disease.
Over the last week or so I’ve been immersing myself in online library data bases, scrolling through randomised clinical trials and observational studies, trying to find a link between shift work, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus or T2DM.
Why would I do such a thing you may ask? Well I may be a little crazy, but it begins with the letter ‘L’ , which stands for Literature Review, and in my case, I have a 2000 word Literature Review due this weekend. Fortunately for me, I was able to choose a topic which I’m quite passionate about – that being shift work health.
However I have to say, what I’ve found in the depths of those data bases wasn’t exactly pretty.
So let’s talk firstly about working the night or evening shift. Studies have shown an increased risk of diabetes in nurses who worked nights or evening shifts, which can be explained by a variety of different mechanisms.
- Exposure to light at night leads to a decrease in the pineal release of melatonin, a strong antioxidant which plays a key role in the synthesis, secretion and action of insulin. A reduction in melatonin has been associated with an increase in insulin resistance which over time, can lead to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus or T2DM.
- Persistent circadian stress as a result of disruption to the normal sleep/wake cycle, is common in night shift workers which may cause excessive secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone) and interleukins (proteins which are involved in the immune response). These two things combined, along with an increase in insulin concentrations can lead to the build up of abdominal fat, lipid disorders and insulin resistance.
- Working nights are often accompanied by changes in lifestyle, such as changing mealtimes which alters the timing of insulin response.
OK, now let’s talk about rotating shifts. (more…)
As a shift worker, have you ever wondered why you’re constantly getting sick? Perhaps you are so used to feeling under the weather all of the time, that it’s become the new “normal” for you.
Well that’s because your body is functioning at a reduced capacity due to a lack of restorative sleep, similar to that feeling of being jet lagged after a nice vacation away, except that you haven’t flown anywhere!
Every day we push our bodies to work against our body’s natural sleep cycle, which is regulated by two body systems:
- Sleep/wake homeostasis and
- The circadian biological clock
Working at erratic hours means our sleep is constantly thrown out of sync.
So how does this affect our immune system?
This constant disruption to our sleep-wake cycles actually weakens the lining of our gut, making us prone to gastrointestinal complaints. An all too familiar experience for any one who has ever worked 24/7.
As the integrity of our gut is compromised, this has a flow on effect on our immune system because 80% of our immunity is found in the gut, thereby impairing our ability to fight off infections.
The gut itself is made up of gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) which helps to defend our body against harmful pathogens. This helps to explain why supporting the gut is KEY to maintaining a more robust immune system – particularly for anyone working 24/7.