Intermittent fasting is very popular as a way to lose weight—and it’s very effective too!
But did you know that there is a lot more to it than weight loss?
Fasting, including longer water fast, can have tremendous health benefits and improve many chronic health diseases.
As a gut health expert, I became especially interested in the effects of fasting on digestion, and this is what I want to focus on today: HOW CAN FASTING IMPROVE GUT HEALTH?
FASTING… THAT SOUNDS SCARY!
But before I start, I want to acknowledge that fasting can be pretty scary… it certainly used to scare me, because, well, like most people, I LOVE FOOD!
However, my experience with it so far has been surprisingly freeing. I have so much more time!!
Many of my clients who have gut issues complain that they don’t know what to eat for breakfast. Because of their poor digestion, most can’t eat grains, gluten, dairy and so on… making breakfast a difficult meal if you are pressed for time.
Well, here is a simple solution: Don’t break your fast (in case you didn’t know, that’s why we call it breakfast) until noon. Et voilà, you are now practising intermittent fasting and reaping the benefits. In addition, you are reducing your morning stress —remember, no need to prepare breakfast! Plus you might now have time for a short yoga practice in the morning 😉
So let’s talk about those benefits…
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING ON GUT HEALTH.
1- Positive impact on the microbiome (your gut bacteria)
Intermittent fasting could favourably influence the balance of beneficial gut flora. This is great, considering that most people with gut issues have what is called dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria… learn more in my Free Fix-You-Gut mini-course).
We are just starting to understand how intermittent fasting may impact our microbiome.
My belief is that the improvement is caused at least partly by the fact that most species of ‘bad bacteria’ don’t do well when you cut out their food supply. So, if you fast, they will tend to starve more quickly than the healthy bacteria in your gut, which can survive better without food.
One study showed that a particular bacteria called Akkermansia increases significantly with intermittent fasting. This is a good thing because this bacteria is associated with improved metabolism and reduced inflammation.
Fasting can also increase the diversity of your gut bacteria—important for your immune and overall health—and boost your body’s resistance to bad gut bacteria.
2- Stimulates the migrating motor complex (MMC)
If you have SIBO, you might have heard of the importance of the MMC. In fact, the most common cause of SIBO is a dysfunction of the MMC (this is usually what causes the so-called ’post-infectious IBS’) which causes bacteria to overgrow in the small intestine.
To make a long story short, the MMC is responsible to clean up the small intestine between meals. It is usually activated when you haven’t had anything to eat for at least 4 hours. So if you fast for longer periods, you get a much better clean up job. This will reduce the number of bacteria in your small intestine, and hence reduce fermentation, bloating, and all of the other unpleasant symptoms that goes with it!
3- Improves immune response/ Increased Secretory IgA
One 2014 study found that intermittent fasting (alternate-day fasting for 12 weeks) helped Salmonella-infected mice clear the pathogenic bacteria more quickly through a heightened immune response, prevented the bacteria from crossing out of the gut and resulted in elevated levels of IgA, an antibody or protein that boosts the integrity and immune function of mucous membranes like those lining the intestines.
Although more studies need to be done, the potential is pretty amazing, considering that so many of my clients have gut infections (often unknown), and low levels of IgA (meaning poor defence against potential invaders).
4- Restores gut integrity.
If you have a leaky gut… this is the one for you!
Some early research studies indicate that an extended fasting period can let our guts rest and restore the integrity of our intestinal walls, or epithelium. This may be especially important to protect us against a “leaky gut”.
Researchers have linked daily fasting to activation of the gene that strengthens the gut barrier to protect us from harmful microbes, toxins, and other substances that can trigger immune reactions.
Fasting for longer periods can also stimulate autophagy (triggered after about 16-18 hours of fasting) and stem cell regeneration (triggered after 4 to 5 days of fasting), 2 more mechanisms that could help heal a damaged gut.
5- Gives your gut a well-deserved break and RESET your system!
Many people don’t realise that the process of digestion is very demanding on the body. Fasting is a great way to give your overworked gut a break from this energy-intensive task, so it can focus on healing!
We can compare fasting to rebooting the hard drive in a computer. My husband works in IT and we always joke about this, because whenever I tell him I need help with my computer, he tells me to restart it. And most of the time, it does the trick. The same thing happens in the human body. We develop issues, and when we turn the system down with fasting and allow it to reboot, a lot of things—from gut flora to chronic inflammatory conditions—tend to sort themselves out.
And because your stomach and digestive glands are not overworked – you produce optimal amounts of enzymes and gastric secretions when you actually do eat food.
6- Reduces food sensitivities and endotoxemia.
Many of the patients I work with have severe food sensitivities even though they have very healthy diets, which can be extremely frustrating and debilitating on a daily basis. Fasting can provide instantaneous relief of symptoms and aids in supporting recovery from the underlying issues.
I hope I have convinced you that intermittent fasting is well worth the effort.
However, I do want to mention that some people might not tolerate fasting very well at first. This is usually due to poor blood sugar balance and adrenal dysfunction.
You can learn all about how to improve this in my at-home program
TIPS AND TRICKS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF FASTING FOR IMPROVED GUT HEALTH
It’s important to realise that although fasting can do wonders for your gut, it’s not a magic bullet.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of it, and fix your gut for good.
1- Start with a shorter fasting window, like 12:12 (12-hour eating, 12 hours fasting) and slowly extend.
2- Get some help!
If you have severe gut issues, I recommend working with a health practitioner who specialises in gut health (learn how you can work with me) before or while implementing fasting in your health regimen. Fasting can trigger some serious health crisis/ die-off, etc, and you want someone who understands what’s happening to help you get the best out of it.
3- Make sure you have a healthy, gut-friendly diet, and figure out your food sensitivities.
Get my Happy Gut Kitchen 4-week Meal Plan if you need some help with that.
4- Address possible gut infections. Combining intermittent fasting with a program to kill unwanted pathogens in your gut can be very powerful.
5- Remember… it’s not just about diet. Stress, exercise, etc also have a huge role to play!