HSW 47 – Gut Health, Probiotics and Sleep with Dr Jason Hawrelak.

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast:

This week I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing one of the leading experts on gut health, Dr Jason Hawrelak who is a researcher, lecturer, naturopath, and nutritionist based in Hobart with over 17 years of clinical experience.

Whilst there’s an enormous amount of research on some of the damaging effects a poor diet has on our gut health (high saturated fats, low fibre, and high sugar), another less known factor is how sleep disruption can have negative implications on the state of our gut health too.

Given shift workers are prone to circadian rhythm disruption or a disruption to our sleep/wake cycle, what most people are unaware of is how this sleep disruption can actually disrupt the composition of our gut microbiota which can subsequently impair the lining of the digestive tract, leading to an increase in the permeability of the gut, otherwise known as “leaky gut”.

Dr Hawrelak goes into detail on some of the mechanisms behind this increase in intestinal permeability, along with discussing the difference between pre and probiotics; capsules versus powder; and when is the best time to take your probiotics in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Links mentioned on the podcast:

Probiotic Advisor

Goulds Natural Medicine Clinic

Avocados and Inflammation:

Why They Make The Perfect Mid-Shift Snack!

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).


Breakfast Nutrition:

It was brekky on the deck this morning to soak up the winter warming rays of sunshine, before heading off to my local organic farmers markets.

These little chia pots are great for breakfast (or anytime really), as chia seeds are loaded with fibre, protein, healthy omega-3 fats, calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.

They also contain high amounts of antioxidants plus certain micronutrients including zinc, potassium, vitamins B1, B2 and B3.

From a shift work nutrition perspective, what I absolutely love about these tiny little black seeds is they help to provide sustained energy which is super important when you’re faced with ongoing tiredness as a result of working 24/7.


Prebiotics: The Forgotten Super Stars of Gut Health!

And Why They'e SO Important For Shift Workers.

Probiotic (or prebiotic) rich foods including pulses, nuts, fruit and milk products, good for immunity and the gut

There’s so much hype in the media at the moment about the importance of gut health and the benefits of probiotics, and rightly so given shift workers gastrointestinal systems are under a great deal of distress thanks to a lifestyle which encompasses continual circadian rhythm misalignment.

When you add a poor diet into the mix, as in one which is made up predominantly of fast food and takeaways which let’s face it, is an all too common scenario for anyone working 24/7, it can disrupt the delicate balance of our intestinal microbiota even further.  This can lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, constipation, dysbiosis – to name a few!

Which is where prebiotics come into play.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”  In other words, they help to keep the digestive tract in tip top shape and functioning well.  Two of the most well known and prescribed probiotic strains of bacteria include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, which  have shown to be beneficial in treating conditions such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

Taking a probiotic supplement however, along with including foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea and kefir into your diet (which is all the rage these days!) – does not guarantee these beneficial bacteria will thrive.

They need help – in the form of prebiotics.

Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre found in plant foods which are unable to be digested, and function as food for the beneficial bacteria.

That’s right.

Food for the bacteria.  They literally help to create an environment which stimulates the growth of good bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which we now know are incredibly important in the maintenance and restoration of a healthy gut microbiome.

So if your diet does not include adequate amounts of undigestible or fermentable fibre, all of those healthy bacteria in your gut which are needed to stimulate nutrient metabolism (such as vitamin K and a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate); improve gut barrier function and host immunity; help in the metabolism of drugs; along with preventing the colonization of pathogenic microorganisms – are unable to survive.

In other words, prebiotics, or undigestible dietary fibre is absolutely crucial for gut health.

Even more so if you’re a shift worker prone to gastrointestinal disturbances and a depleted immune system, which pretty much includes every single shift worker I know!

Foods are regarded as being a prebiotic if they are able to:

  • Resist gastric acidity and absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract
  • Become fermented by the intestinal microflora
  • Stimulate the growth and/or activity of good intestinal bacteria

Foods high in prebiotic fibre include bananas, berries, dandelion greens, oats, legumes, beans peas, leeks, asparagus, onions and garlic.

So remember not to focus all your energy on probiotics – particularly if you’re taking them in supplement form.  If your diet contains little fibre needed to feed these probiotics, then not only will you be unable to reap the benefits, but you will essentially be throwing away your hard earned cash which you’ve worked so incredibly hard for – including regularly getting up at “stupid o’clock” or from working through the night.

Some (prebiotic) food for thought!

Audra x



Chronoceuticals 2016, The health benefits of prebiotics, <https://chronoceuticals.com/health-benefits-prebiotics/>.

Jandhyala, S, Talukdar, R, Subramanyam, C, Vuyyuru, H, Sasikala, M, Reddy, D 2015, ‘Role of the normal gut microbiota’, World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 21, no. 29, pp. 8787-8803, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021/

Slavin, J 2015, ‘Fiber and prebiotics:  Mechanisms and health benefits’, Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 1417-1435, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705355/>

Fibre – Are You Getting Enough?

An Essential Ingredient for Shift Workers.

Fiber rich foods on wooden table. Healthy eating. Top view

Fibre – depending on which part of the world you’re from, you might refer to it as ‘fibre’ or ‘fiber’.  Either way, however you spell or pronounce it, fibre forms an essential requirement of our diet – every single day.

So what exactly is it, and why do shift workers in particular need it?

Well to begin with, everyone needs fibre whether you work 24/7 or not.  However shift workers need it even more so for a number of reasons.

Most notably because shift workers are prone to digestive complaints as a result of circadian rhythm dysregulation, which is a fancy way of describing the continual disruption to the sleep-wake cycle as a result of working 24/7.  This also weakens the lining of the gut, impairing the ability to fight off infections, which I chatted about in an earlier blog post titled – Jet Lag, Shift Work and Your Gut.

But back to today’s post.

Not only does regular consumption of dietary fiber help to reduce digestive complaints, but studies have shown it helps to protect against the development of many ‘Western type diseases’ such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and obesity.

Unfortunately shift workers are prone to developing these types of chronic conditions, possibly as a result of a predominantly low fibre diet – i.e; one which is dominated with fast foods, takeaways and highly refined and processed foods.  In other words, very little whole foods, or “real food”.

So what exactly is dietary fibre?