Could you be unknowingly poisoning yourself?
It might sound like an odd question to ask as none of us would ever want to intentionally harm ourselves, however, I remember back in my early 20’s when I was new to shift work (and eating crap food) – I went from being quite lean to becoming quite puffy.
By some miracle, I didn’t really gain much weight, but my face and hands became swollen and I was always bloated.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was that I was slowly poisoning myself by eating toxic foods containing refined sugars and inflammatory fats that were leading to systemic inflammation.
Besides sapping our energy, chronic low-level inflammation can damage blood vessels, weaken our muscles and cause absolute havoc on our hormones!
Ouch! As if shift work isn’t hard enough?!
Are you eating food made out a laboratory … AKA lots of ultra-processed, refined and sugar-laden foods, or more whole, real foods designed by Mother Nature?
Because apart from the fact the body struggles to break down and digest these types of “foods”, according to a French study published in JAMA (2019), for every 10% portion of our diet that’s made up of processed foods, our risk of developing diabetes jumps up another 15% right along with it.
Now this might not sound earth-shattering, but if you are a shift worker, this percentage rises even more as sleep deprivation, alone, disrupts the regulation of blood sugar levels.
This is because if you’re awake when you’re not meant to be (AKA the life of EVERY shift worker on the planet!), it leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which raises blood sugar levels.
The body does this because when you’re sleep deprived, it senses that your life is in danger.
This week I’m going to talk about one of my favourite shift working foods, that being the Avocado.
Whilst I don’t believe there is any one-size-fits-all diet for shift workers, I certainly believe some foods are better than others, particularly for those subjected to a life of constant sleep-deprivation. This is because ongoing sleep deprivation has been shown to promote intestinal hyper-permability, which is essentially the fancy word for “leaky gut”.
Leaky gut is one of the main drivers behind inflammation, and more and more research is implicating inflammation in the development of various diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. As a result, minimising inflammation in the body is absolutely key for maintaining optimal health.
From a nutritional perspective, avocados are loaded with nutrients. They are particularly abundant in vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin E, and vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid) and B6 (pyridoxine).
Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode:
As I’ve submerged myself in journal articles on all things to do with shift work health over the years, one of the things which keeps coming up in the research, is that shift workers are quite prone to developing insulin resistance, a condition where the body in unable to move glucose from the blood, and into the cells efficiently. This causes blood sugar levels to rise to unhealthy levels, which can lead to prediabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes.
Sleep deprivation alone has shown to impair the way our body responds to insulin, however when you combine it with a diet high in unhealthy fats, fructose and carbohydrates from processed and take-away foods, it can enhance our likelihood of developing diabetes even more, along with leading to a steady gain in weight.
In this episode, I invited Wendy Steward from Melbourne who after incorporating more whole foods and movement into her lifestyle, along with removing a lot of processed foods from her diet, managed to reverse her dependency on insulin, along with losing a staggering 40 kilograms!
Wendy is a real character and is authentic as they come, so was happy to share her diabetes and weight gain story which incorporated a roller coaster of emotional eating, a diagnosis of PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and an ongoing struggle to have children. If any of these things resonate, then you’re going to love this episode because Wendy is one incredibly inspiring lady :-).
Wendy’s Facebook page – Wendy’s Way
Wendy’s Podcast – Wendy’s Way
Changing Habits, Changing Lives book by Cyndi O’Meara
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
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…)