Jet Lag, Shift Work and Your Gut :

The Reason For Your Immune System Downfall!

Guts - Female Organs - Human Anatomy

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:

  1. Sleep/wake homeostasis and
  2. 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.


Fatigue and Tiredness:

Why We Can't Always Blame Shift Work!

tiredbookI think we can all agree that feelings of constant fatigue, tiredness, sleepiness and drowsiness certainly comes with the territory when working 24/7. However whilst a good part of this may ring true, it’s important to understand that shift work may not be the only reason that’s causing you to feel like a deflated balloon.

What do I mean by this? Well as I approach my 12 month anniversary since accepting a voluntary redundancy from my shift working job – a position which encompassed over half my life, I was kind of expecting to feel like an Energizer bunny on steroids soon after hanging up my alarm clock for good.

But a funny thing happened.

I didn’t reach that Energizer Bunny status. In fact I didn’t even come close.

In fact these last 12 months have been an interesting journey as I learn more and more about my own health whilst at the same time, embarking on a degree in Nutritional Medicine.

As I’ve since discovered – fatigue can be a funny thing.

When we work shift work we learn to accept that it is what it is, we never query that our tiredness could be attributed to anything other than ongoing sleep deprivation.

And why should we? It’s fairly obvious that sleep is a major contributor, but what if it wasn’t and how would we know?


Sugar and Shift Work:

A Double Whammy On Your Immune System!

Cookie man and retro alarm clock on wooden backgroundDo you often fall ill, catching every cold or bug that’s going around? Well considering sleep deprivation depletes our immune system – it’s not surprising.

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. (more…)

How a SAD Shift Work Diet Can Weaken Your Immune System.

Young woman and an unhealthy diet conceptAs shift workers we’re certainly prone to eating all of the wrong types of foods as we often feel too tired to cook thanks to a lifestyle dictated by ongoing sleep deprivation, particularly when we’ve experienced a run of early or night shifts.

But is your shift work diet SAD or is it happy?

If you’re wondering what I mean by this I’m actually referring to the Standard American Diet (hence the acronym SAD) – or in my case, a Standard Australian Diet which is pretty much the same thing.

However depending on how you answer this question, it’s going to play a key in how healthy your immune system is which is an ongoing struggle for most shift workers.

If you answered “yes” to having a SAD (which most shift workers do), it’s important to recognise that the Standard American/Australian Diet is high in Omega 6’s which include saturated fats, trans fatty acids, and arachidonic acid which can result in inflammation, one of the leading causes of most degenerative diseases (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition*).

In contrast, a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids or Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) can provide us with a healthy immune system as they support the healthy function of our cells. A depleted immune system also makes us more susceptible to injury, allergies and infection.

Foods containing Omega 3’s include fish and fish oils which are a source of long chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which contain anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce risk factors associated with hypertension, high triglycerides, and atherosclerosis (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition*).

The problem we have today is that the typical SAD or Western diet contains far more omega-6’s than it does omega 3’s.

Unfortunately because of our haphazard lifestyle, shift workers are much more likely to adopt the super-convenient-but-very-unhealthy Standard American Diet.

It’s also important to understand that when you’re feeding your body suboptimal nutrition day after day, year after year, it’s going to wear you down and lead to nutritional deficiencies which will negatively affect your immune system and make you less robust to fight off any infections.

So how can you adopt a much happier shift work diet?

By simply replacing your diet with foods which are high in omega 6’s (fast foods – fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, hash browns, cakes, pastries, muffins, sundaes and vegetable oils) with those which contain more omega 3’s (flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, sardines, salmon, mackerel, eggs, chicken and beef).

I use the word ‘replace’ instead of remove because we shouldn’t be removing things from our diet without replacing them with something else – preferably with much healthier options! The word ‘remove’ can also lead to feelings of restriction – as though we’re missing out which is rarely sustainable in the long term.

So start replacing your SAD diet with one which is rich in Essential Fatty Acids or Omega 3’s, and your immune system and overall shift work health will be much happier as a result!

*Simopoulos, A 1999, ‘Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 560-569.

Shift Work Illness: Does Your Fledgling Immune System Need a Boost?

One of the down sides of having to work a 24/7 roster encompassing some pretty ruthless and irregular hours, is that we are prone to attracting some pretty nasty infections.

One of which of course is the dreaded cold and flu.

The headaches and/or body aches; runny and/or stuffy nose; cough and/or sore throat; fever and/or chills – not to mention the all time favourite symptom of FATIGUE, can really knock us down when we’re already struggling to function around a life of constant sleep deprivation.

So after a recent trip to a health retreat (yes I know you’re very jealous), I managed to pick up this awesome tea recipe, appropriately called – ‘Cold and Flu Tea’. If you’re feeling run down and beginning to feel the onset of a cold or flu, I certainly recommend you give it a go.

Cold and flu tea


3 garlic cloves
5cm (2 inch) piece of fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
juice of 4 lemons
2 ginger tea bags
1 tablespoon honey


Bring 2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups) of water to the boil in a pan. Finely chop the garlic, ginger and cinnamon in a food processor and then add to the boiling water.

Add the lemon juice, ginger tea bags and honey. Boil for 5 minutes and then strain before serving.

Note: If the tea is too strong for your taste, you can add more water. Makes 2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups).

Of course nothing helps cure a common cold more easily than getting plenty of rest. So if the dreaded lurgy has taken a strong hold, it’s time to put yourself first – even if it does mean staying in bed all day.

P.S – Don’t forget to let me know what you think of the tea!