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Pooing on the clock: Does your roster give you ‘the shifts’?

Nurses around the world are reporting that shift work is affecting their gut health, causing issues like diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.

And now Australian researchers want to explore those ties across all spectrums of work.

Lead researcher Dr Phillip Tully from the University of Adelaide said there has been a high prevalence of gastrointestinal disorders reported in nurse shift workers, with recent data coming from Brazil, South Korea, Iran, Iceland and Turkey.

“The specific gastrointestinal disorders and related symptoms documented among shift workers include Helicobacter pylori infection, duodenal ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, functional disorders, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal bloating, gastro-oesophageal reflux and regurgitation,” he said.

University of New England psychologist Dr Suzie Cosh said while it’s known certain gastrointestinal disorders are more widespread in people who do shift work, how it unfolds is still quite poorly understood.

“Our study wants to better understand the effects of the workplace and working conditions on people’s gut health.

“We hope to learn more about possible associations by investigating work settings, sleep, bowel movements and gastrointestinal symptoms,” Cosh said.

So why might shift workers be facing these issues?

Tully said diurnal rhythms on gut microbiota and patterns of food intake and satiety are important to worker health, and added: “Shift workers experience disruption in circadian rhythms, change in hormonal metabolism, change in diet, and irregular timing of eating.”

Shift workers may also face high job demands like long work hours or burnout, or limited access to toilets or toilet breaks, he added.

“Research to date has neglected psychosocial stress when we know shift work is associated with a higher likelihood of burnout, work-place conflict, and disruption to life outside work.

“Stress is heavily implicated in gut-brain axis disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, while ‘bowel shyness’ is a specific form of anxiety surrounding bowel movements.”

The team hopes to break down the ‘poo taboo’ and 500 people are already on board, but researchers want at least another 700 participants to take part in the survey. The research is open to anyone over the age of 18 and employed but nurses, paramedics, and other shift and fly-in fly-out workers are especially encouraged to sign up.

“The #itspootime research is anonymous, can be completed online – even on the porcelain throne – and takes 20 minutes,” Tully said.

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