2 Ways Shift Work is Affecting Your Health by Ken Sylvan
Shift workers commonly report issues with productivity, emotional and mental well-being, poor energy, and not enough family time. But as I work with my shift worker clients I see 2 main issues: Disrupted stress hormone levels & insulin resistance. Let's take a closer look at how these 2 situations affect our bodies.
The stress hormone is not all bad, but why do we need it?
1) It keeps us alert and focused in stressful situations. It wakes us up in the morning when light hits our eyes and if it's working well, we should feel like getting up and moving!
2) It provides energy during the day as we work and workout!
3) When regulated, stress hormone plays a significant role burning fat.
But like everything else, we must take the good with the bad as high stress hormone also has negative effects.
1) It disrupts blood sugar and insulin levels – often seen in the nervous snacker, who always seems to need sugar, or something sweet, to keep them going.
2) High levels of stress hormone tends to cause dysfunction with insulin cells around the belly button which can result in a depositing of extra fat in that area and adjacent "love handles". It's no surprise that these two areas are the number 1 & 2 trouble spots for North Americans.
3) High levels can inflame the liver and stress the organ itself. When this happens its ability to detoxify is slowed which can lead to additional hormonal abnormalities or unexplained weight gain in the legs, lower abdomen, and glutes.
4) High stress hormone also keeps you awake when you want to sleep as it competes with our own body's melatonin designed to help you to fall and stay asleep.
5) Low stress hormone is just as much of a problem because this causes the morning snooze syndrome: irritability, defensiveness, paranoia, shakiness and weakness – it also may cause waking up repeatedly during the night.
How do we recommend you fix it?
By taking adaptogens (a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.) This is commonly the fastest and easiest solution to minimize the damage caused by both high and low stress hormone. At Belite our top recommendations are:
(more company info)
Proprietary Blend 1600mg
Cordyceps Extract (mycelium)
Ashwagandha Extract (root)
Rhodiola Rosea (5% rosavins)
Schisandra Extract (berry)
Tongkat Ali Extract
Other ingredients: Micro Crystalline Cellulose (USP), Ascorbic Acid USP, vegetable capsule (cellulose, purified water).
(more company info)
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) found in the foods we eat as energy now, or to store it for future use. Insulin helps to keep your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia).
Irregular sleep patterns cause our bodies to become insulin resistant. Why does this happen? When you don't get enough sleep, your body appears to require more insulin to maintain normal glucose levels. As well, sleep deprivation seems to alter the sympathetic nervous system (the body's stress control and hormonal balance center), all of which affects glucose regulation. Eventually, sleeplessness causes insulin-producing cells to stop working properly, elevating glucose levels and leaving you wide open to developing diabetes. Additionally, fatigue also jolts the sympathetic nervous system into high gear, throwing off its ability to regulate blood sugar. I can't say that every shift worker is going to develop diabetes, but I can say that this situation may also add some unwanted pounds in the midsection.
(**Insulin sensitivity is the relationship between how much insulin needs to be produced in order to deposit a certain amount of glucose. You are insulin sensitive if a small amount of insulin needs to be secreted to deposit a certain amount of glucose, and insulin resistant if a lot of insulin needs to be secreted to deposit the same amount of glucose.Insulin sensitivity is seen as good as the opposite, insulin resistance, is a major risk factor for the development of Type II diabetes.)
1) Have frequent meals/snacks starting with a protein. What we eat plays a part in how insulin sensitive we are.
2) Stick to fibrous carbs (vegetables and fruits) and earn your starches (rice, potatoes, etc)
3) If you are awake at night (of course you are), stick to protein and healthy fats.
4) Use magnesium as a supplement (glycinate fumarate, threoante) as it increases insulin sensitivity
5) Add foods like bitter melon, either raw or in tea form, which can decrease cravings by regulating glucose uptake and insulin.
There are many negative physical effects of "doing" shift work but there are equally as many things that you can do to repair and heal your system. Stay educated and informed and you will stay working.
The Shift Worker’s Guide is not a doctor, accordingly, any changes you make to your lifestyle or health practices should be on the advice of your primary medical caregiver. Full disclaimer information is available on our Disclaimer Page
Lack of Sleep / Gut Microbiota Connection — and why it matters to Shift Workers
“Do what your gut tells you to do,” “trust your gut”, “I can feel it in my gut”, all statements we’ve heard before but research shows that outcomes in our bodies are directly related to what’s going on in our guts…and that our guts are directly affected by what’s going on in the lives we lead. Dr. Reynolds is researching how sleep or lack of sleep is connected to our overall health… and she tells us one very important thing she believes we, as Shift Workers should do.
Dr. Reynolds: I work as part of a larger research group with an interest in people who work non-standard work hours. In the experimental sleep laboratory, we bring people into the lab and we change sleep durations and timing to see what happens to their health. While I was doing this during my PhD, we kept finding that health biomarkers (glucose, insulin, etc.) were affected by restricting sleep, but we still couldn’t paint a clear picture of why. The gut microbiota approach really came from having a little boy with a rare protein disorder. As I read about how to care for him, and what we could do to help him improve, I came across the microbiota literature and the pieces fell into place - and here we are! Looking at whether we can find a mechanism of action linking sleep and poor health outcomes for shift workers via changes to the gut microbiota.
TSWG: What do you believe is the basic link?
DR R: Stress. Not getting enough sleep triggers a physiological stress response. Other forms of stress negatively affect the microbiota, and disrupted microbiota in turn is associated with a diverse range of poor health outcomes.
TSWG: What do you believe your research will show?
DR R: I suspect that insufficient or disrupted sleep unbalances the ‘normal’ individual profile of the gut microbiome.
TSWG: What do you believe is the short/long term affect of a disrupted circadian rhythm?
DR R: Well - we already know from longer cohort studies that this is associated with a range of poor health outcomes, including (but not limited to) obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and some cancers. I think we see short-term disturbance and disruption to health, which in the long term can play out into some pronounced major health problems for some individuals.
TSWG: How do you think that your research findings will benefit shift workers?
DR R: At the end of the day - shiftwork is unavoidable. So we need to find strategies to help those who have to do it. I am hoping our research will begin that discussion, and may provide a mechanism we can work with to in part mitigate the effects of sleep and circadian disruption.
TSWG: Do you think that "medication" as we know it will continue to solve (moderate) issues, or will it be more a long term commitment to eat better, maybe take supplements (pre/probiotics)?
DR R: I suspect the answer is bigger than what we have now. I’m not sure I’m equipped at this point to say more, but I would hope the bigger picture moves beyond medication to a more holistic approach to managing the stress of sleep and circadian disruption.
TSWG: In your work and observations of shift working and health is there any one thing that you'd like us all to know?
DR R: Remember that it is ok (and vital) to prioritize sleep. It can be difficult with social pressures, unusual sleep timing and work conditions to fit necessary sleep in. But prioritizing sleep will have short and long term consequences for mental and physical health - it really is an important time investment!
FOR MORE INFO ON DR. REYNOLDS AND HER STUDY CLICK HERE
Energy Drinks & You — The 5 Most Common “Natural” Ingredients
Energy drinks are different from ordinary soft drinks because although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies traditional soft drinks as foods, energy drinks fall into the separate classification of dietary supplements so are not subject to the same rules. For example, a 12-ounce can of soda is allowed by the FDA to contain a maximum of 65 mg of caffeine; however, an energy drink such as Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine in a 8.4-ounce can; a larger-volume drink such as Full Throttle ® (original) has 144 mg in a 16-ounce can. But there’s more in that can than spring water, caffeine and a whole bunch of sugar and Glucose (or Aspartame, Sucralose, and Acesulfame K, in the sugar free versions).
L-carnitine: One of the most common ingredients, L-carnitine, is an amino acid naturally found in the body. It plays a role in the prevention of cellular damage and recovery from exercise stress. An energy drink can contain more than 2 grams (and some up to 6 grams). The excess is unnecessary, as the body is unable to absorb more than 2 grams.
Guarana: This contains high amounts of caffeine, theobromine (1), and theophylline (2) and is derived from a South American plant that increases energy as well as aids in weight loss. Interestingly, the label listing the caffeine content of the beverage is not entirely accurate, as some of the caffeine may be hidden in other substances, such as Guarana, which contains caffeine that is not (normally) included in the caffeine totals.
L-arginine: (as a caffeine replacement in some energy drinks) An amino acid, it is suggested to increase blood flow as well as exercise tolerance. It is thought to trigger the formation of increased protein within the body. L-arginine is a semi-essential amino acid; under normal conditions, a healthy body manufactures enough, so supplementation is unnecessary. However, when the system is severely stressed, such as in protein malnutrition or severe burns, it stimulates increased production of muscle mass. Side effects include increased levels of potassium, creatinine, and urea. Individuals with renal or hepatic disease should avoid this supplement. In any case, the value of L-arginine to a healthy adult has not been confirmed.
Taurine: This is an abundant amino acid found in the central nervous system. It is an antioxidant and acts on neuronal growth. With taurine, more is not better. Several retrospective case studies on individuals with mental illness found that those who consumed large amounts taurine-containing beverages (4 or more per day) for a number of days experienced a worsening of their underlying illness. They became become hyper vigilant, even psychotic, as well as verbally and physically aggressive. When hospitalized and no longer able to consume the energy drinks, they returned to baseline function (Seifert et al., 2011).
Glucuronalactone: A chemical made naturally in the body when glucose is metabolized which may fight fatigue and is suggested to enhance cardiovascular function therefore improving performance and promoting alertness. There has been little clinical research into its uses, benefits or long-term affects.
Individually, each of the additives suggests a combined benefit to tissue, increased protein production, anti-oxidant properties, as well as improved circulation. However, no current evidence supports the anticipated claims of energy drinks on athletic performance. Nor is there extensive research and testing on the stacking of additives & ingredients.
Teens and adolescents should never drink energy drinks, nor should energy drinks be combined with alcohol.
If you’re really thinking of adding an energy drink to your bag of WAKE ME UP tricks, you should also visit your Doctor’s office to make sure that none of these “common” ingredients will react badly with any medications you’re on, or cause additional harm with any physical conditions you may have.
As a tired Shift Worker, and now that you have some basic information, you’d have to decide for yourself whether the “benefits” of downing one outweigh the suggested negative affects.
Catharine & Seonaid
(1) Theobromine – has a weaker but similar effect as caffeine. Has diuretic, stimulant and relaxing effects, can lower blood pressure as it can dilate blood vessels and can also relax bronchi muscles in lungs. Unlike caffeine affecting the central nervous system, it acts on the vagus nerve which runs from lungs to brain.
(2) Theophylline – relaxes and opens air passages in the lungs
Further reading National Centre for biotechnology information
New Research Links Hormone Release Time to Breast/Prostate Cancer
People who work night shifts may be more at risk of breast or prostate cancer because of hormonal changes. Night shift work has previously been linked to a raised cancer risk, but it wasn't clear why. Now a study by the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona suggests increased levels of sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, at the 'wrong' time may be to blame.
More than 100 people who worked different shifts gave urine samples across a 24-hour period; their hormone levels were also measured. Night workers were found to have significantly higher levels of sex hormones at the wrong time, such as testosterone peaking between 10am and 2pm, rather than between 6am and 10am.
Shiftwork and Systemic Inflammation
You’ve put on a few pounds – we tend to not eat the right food or to not eat at optimal times for our bodies to ingest and digest. Going up even a few pounds causes enlarged fat cells to let loose adipokines thought by the medical community to be involved in inflammatory conditions.
You regularly sleep less than you should – The body uses “sleep” time to heal stressed cells. No sleep = no healing.
If you’re rolling out of bed anxious from constant stress at work and home then your cortisol levels are already depleted. With cortisol in short supply there’s not enough left to regulate our immune systems and control inflammation. Stress is huge.
…. Unfortunately we live on it.
My fellow Shifties – we need to take care of ourselves.
(some info from Men’s Journal, April 2015)
Exercise and Sleep
I almost always forget … then feel guilty for not following through. A poll done by the National Sleep Foundation (US), finds a significant association between exercise and better sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to problems such as impaired judgment, over-eating, fatigue, and decreased productivity. Individuals categorized as non-exercisers also had a higher risk of sleep apnea a condition that increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. “Not exercising and not sleeping can become a vicious cycle. Research published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, states that exercise can help you fall asleep quicker and get you into a deeper sleep or delta cycle for a longer period of time. Getting to this cycle will help you to feel more refreshed and rested for the next day. Furthermore, exercising has a multiple benefits such as reducing stress, and lowering your risk of chronic disease.”
The basic suggestion is that you should increase your physical activity, and exercise to sleep better.