Are You Unconsciously Poisoning Yourself?

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?!


Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and Immunity

Something which is not often spoken about when it comes to immune function, is how our body composition can play a role in its ability to function at its optimum.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of conditions comprising of:

– excess abdominal weight
– high blood pressure
– elevated blood glucose levels
– high levels of triglycerides, and
– low levels of high-density lipoproteins or good cholesterol 

A person is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome (MetS) if they have at least three of these five conditions.

Sadly this is becoming more and more prevalent both here in Australia, and overseas – also raising the risks of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Quite simply, metabolic syndrome has become a global epidemic (Saklayen 2018) – be it a very silent one.

What’s important to understand is that metabolic syndrome (MetS) negatively affects immune function, and does so by altering normal functioning of lymphatic tissues due to high levels of inflammation.

These lymphatic tissues include white blood cells (leukocytes), bone marrow, the thymus gland, spleen and lymph nodes.

So stay tuned, as over the next few weeks I’m going to share some tips and tricks on how to address all 5 of these MetS risk factors, because many people who work outside normal working hours … AKA shift workers ⏰, often present with at least 3-4 of them.

Audra x

HSW 64 – Low Carb and High Fat with Sports Nutritionist Steph Lowe

In today’s episode of The Healthy Shift Worker podcast we’re joined by Steph Lowe who is a Sports Nutritionist, triathlete, author and founder of The Natural Nutritionist – a hub for celebrating the importance of real food.

Steph talks to us about the importance of eating more real food – otherwise known as JERF, which encompasses more of a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) style of eating and it’s associated health benefits including balancing blood sugar.

Given blood sugar dysregulation is common in those who are sleep deprived, adopting more of this “real food” approach can be key for anyone working 24/7 as it can help to mitigate some of the poor health outcomes associated with consuming high amounts of  processed sugars and carbohydrates – which let’s face it, forms a significant part of many shift worker’s diet!

In this episode you’re also going to learn why counting calories and following a low fat diet is not ideal, and how it can contribute in the decline of our mental and physical wellbeing.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

Steph’s website – The Natural Nutritionist

The Natural Nutritionist Instagram

Steph’s Build Your Plate Guideline

Cardiovascular Disease and Shift Work:

It’s certainly no secret that shift work is taxiing on our health in more ways than one.  In fact I’m sure you can appreciate first hand just how challenging it is to work irregular hours day after day after day … or should I say night?

But what about cardiovascular disease?

Does working shift work enhance our risks of developing cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension and coronary heart disease?

The simple answer is ‘yes’.

And whilst the mechanisms for doing so vary, the fundamental driver behind this, is unhealthy sleep patterns – which I’m sure every single shift worker on the planet can relate too.

But exactly how does lack of sleep raise our risks of developing cardiovascular disease?

Well it essentially comes down to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the fight-or-flight’ stress response arm of the nervous system which instigates a lot of physiological responses within the body including the release of stress chemicals that raise blood pressure and heart rate.  One of which includes cortisol.


Leaky Gut and a Damaged Fly Screen:

What is the correlation, and why are shift workers prone to it?

Leaky gut.  It sounds like a weird phenomenon – and in a way it is.

Now the technical, more scientific way to describe leaky gut is intestinal permeability, and is when space between the cells within the intestine or tight junctions of the epithelium become wider, which allows food particles to enter into the blood stream.

This causes the body to raise an inflammatory response because these food particles do not belong there, and over time, can be a contributing factor to conditions like autoimmune disease.

How Does This Relate to Shift Workers?

Animal studies have shown that long term stress and nocturnal sleep deprivation, typically associated with shift work, impacts on our gastrointestinal health by altering the delicate balance of the gut microbiome or microbiota, which can lead to dysbiosis and an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.

This dominance of pathogenic bacteria, impacts on tight junction proteins called ‘occludin’, which help to keep the gut “sealed”.  It was also shown to be made worse when combined with a high-fat, high sugar diet, and alcohol.

Hmm.  Me thinks that sounds very similar to a shift worker’s diet …

The best way to describe “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability, is to liken it to a fly screen.

Yes, I know this sounds a bit odd, but just stick with me here.

You see, instead of having lots of tiny holes in your gut, a “leaky gut” has lots of large holes scattered amongst the little ones which allows food particles to enter into the blood stream.

Kind of like in the image above, although this fly screen looks like some almighty mosquito has broken through the net – lol!

In addition to circadian dysregulation, or the disruption to our sleep/wake cycle, nutrient deficiencies such a low levels of vitamin D, zinc and glutamine, can also be a contributing factor to leaky gut; along with ingestion of gluten which is found in wheat, barley, oats and rye; as well as the use of certain medications such as proton pump inhibitors, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antibiotics.

How to Test for Leaky Gut?

To test for a leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, a Lactulose/Mannitol test is conducted through a pathology lab which involves taking a urine specimen in the morning, followed soon after by consuming a drink containing two non-meatbolized sugars called lactulose and mannitol.

Mannitol are small molecules that are readily absorbed by the intestinal villi, whilst larger molecules such  Lactulose are not.  The lab will measure how much lactulose and mannitol are excreted, and if leaky gut syndrome is NOT present, the large lactulose molecules should remain in the GI tract and thus test low in the urine. If the count is high in the urine, then it is possible that leaky gut may be present.

What Can You Do To Prevent Leaky Gut?

Taking care of your gut, or gastrointestinal tract has to be a priority whilst working 24/7, purely because you are more vulnerable to developing it, as a result of the disruption to your sleep/wake cycle.

When your gut is healthy, it remains “sealed” (as opposed to being “leaky”), thereby preventing toxins and waste from within the digestive tract from getting into the bloodstream, and spreading throughout the body.

Some dietary and lifestyle strategies to help prevent the development of leaky gut include:

  • consuming more whole-food, minimally processed foods which are made up predominantly of plant-based foods.  These foods are rich in fibre which are going to feed the good gut bacteria in your digestive tract.  They include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • include more polyphenol rich foods – which are plant compounds that give many fruits and vegetables their bright colours, and are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that are great for gut health.
  • consume more prebiotic rich foods – prebiotics are food for the good gut bacteria and are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).  These include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, legumes and seeds.
  • avoid refined and processed sugars as the pathogenic bacteria or “bad bugs” love them, which will help them to multiply leading to an overgrowth in your gut!


Konturek, P, Brzozowski, T & Konturek, S 2011, ‘Gut clock:  Implication of circadian rhythms in the gastrointestinal tract’, Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, vol. 62, no. 2, pp. 139-150.

NutriPATH Integrative Pathology Services 2013, Intestinal Permeability.

Voigt, R, Forsyth, C, Green, S, Mutlu, E, Engen, P, Vitaterna, M, Turek, F & Keshavarzian, A 2014, ‘Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota’, PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 5.

Wang, S & Wu, W 2005, ‘Effects of psychological stress on small intestinal motility and bacteria and mucosa in mice’, World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 2016-2021.