Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained in popularity since the turn of the century. The release of “The 8-Hour Diet” by David Zinczenko and Peter Moore 2013 brought fasting as a health tool into the zeitgeist.
But fasting is nothing new. It has been a part of human society for thousands of years. In particular, religious communities have incorporated fasting as spiritual practice for millennia.
But are the health benefits truly as profound as has been deeply touted of late? Can IF target a specific health concern? Is it an effective method in treating those who are on a journey to heal their digestion?
What are the detailed benefits of fasting? How does intermittent fasting affect gut health? Can fasting really heal digestive problems? Does fasting kill gut bacteria?
We’re getting to the bottom of these and many other pertinent questions on IF and gut health.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
You’ve probably heard the term before. But, what’s the true definition of intermittent fasting? Simply put, intermittent fasting involves cycles of fasting and feeding periods. This type of eating is often described as “patterns” or “cycles” of fasting.
There are assorted methods of intermittent fasting. Most people select the version that works best for their body and schedule.
Time Restricted Eating
In this option, you have set fasting and eating periods. Since most people fast while they’re sleeping, this method is quite popular. Basically, you extend your overnight fast by skipping breakfast and not eating lunch.
Two common methods are the 16/8 method – eating strictly between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. or noon and 8 p.m. Second most used method is the 14/10 method. Eating between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Time restricted IF can be used daily or a few times a week – the choice is yours. It may take time to find which way works best for your unique body. If you wake up especially hungry for breakfast, you may need to adjust your windows of time for eating. After all, any approach to improving your body’s wellness should feel right. Don’t force yourself to fit into certain regimens that aren’t working for you.
The 24-hour fast involves completely fasting for a full 24 hours. Due to the demanding nature of a 24 hour fast, this method can only be done once, or possibly twice a week. Only water and non-caloric beverages are encouraged during the 24 hour window.
The side effects can be challenging with this technique such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, and low energy. With each of these versions of IF, we highly recommend consulting with one of our naturopathic doctors prior to starting. Each person’s needs must be taken into consideration prior to venturing into longer fasts.
This approach encourages capping your caloric intake at 500 for two days out of the week. The remainder of the days of the week, you maintain a normal and nutritious diet.
On your low caloric intake days focus on high-fiber and high-protein foods. This will help you feel full for longer, without taking on high calories.
What is Gut Health?
Now that you have an understanding of the IF – what is gut health? Typically, gut health refers to a state of absence of any disease in the digestive tract. It also covers a myriad of aspects of digestive health. The term can be used to describe the system of digestion of food, absorption of nutrients through the intestinal walls, optimal unity of microbes, and healthy immune functions.
When your gut health is compromised due to disruption of the intestinal barrier and/or a microbial imbalance, the risk of a range of health problems arise. The good news is, studies show that IF can benefit gut health in many ways.
How Does Fasting Heal Digestive Problems?
Numerous studies have shown substantial benefits to fasting. Including:
- Improved cognitive function
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Improves insulin resistance
- Increases longevity
- Supports weight loss
- Benefits gut microbiome
Clearly, there are many positives to IF for overall health. More to the point – the benefits of fasting to heal digestive problems in particular are astonishing. Join us as we hone in on specific digestive issues IF can benefit below:
The first advantage is by reducing gut permeability. Gut permeability is the process of contents passing in between the intestinal tract and your bloodstream. When the intestinal barrier is disrupted – due to infections, toxins, or injury the contents that usually would remain inside the gut are now traveling throughout your body. Not a pleasant thought.
When these contents spill into the rest of your body, the term used to describe this condition is leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome can lead to all sorts of unpleasant symptoms. It can even cause an increased likelihood of developing certain diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Studies have shown that IF can help reduce gut permeability. In effect, you’ll cut down your own risk of these diseases. It’s believed that long-term fasting greatly benefits both gut permeability and systemic inflammation.
All and all IF is certainly worth a shot if you suffer with symptoms of leaky gut such as diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, skin issues, and joint pain.
Balance of Gut Bacteria
To achieve optimal gut health, there must be a harmony between mixed bacteria (both good and bad) in the gut. When order is lost, resulting in dysbiosis, one type of bacteria may take over the gut.
The goal is to achieve a well tuned gut bacteria (also referred to as gut microbiome). There’s a common misconception that fasting kills gut bacteria. IF has proven results in maintaining a proportionate harmony in the gut. This correlation is met by keeping the various gut bacteria at their appropriate amounts.
Intestinal Function Boost
With aging comes the slowing down of some body functions. Don’t mistake this fact for being unable to be healthy, thriving, and fabulous at any age! It just takes a little effort, which we can help you with.
One of the functions that slows down is the decreasing number of intestinal stem cells (ISC) in the intestinal tract.
ISC are important because they continuously divide and form new types of specialized cells to do all sorts of important functions within the intestines. For example, when an injury in the gut occurs, ISC divides into the type of cells that have been injured resulting in a solution for the lost cells. They’re the superheroes of the gut!
Strikingly, this study found fasting for 24 hours enhances ISC in mice. The bright side revealed in this study – both young and senior mice received the perks.
The conclusion? IF is testing out to be a promising approach to intestinal cell regeneration and supporting overall gut health.
Is Long-Term Fasting For Gut Health for Me?
It can be tough to consider limiting the times you eat to certain windows. IF can be especially taxing for those of us who are frequent snackers (no shame in healthy treats!). Here are a few tips to make beginning on the IF journey a little easier:
- Start slow. Build up a tolerance by eating in a smaller time window each day, and slowly increase to a bigger gap as you’re ready.
- Stay well hydrated. Keep your body full with water, herbal teas, and calorie-free drinks during your fasting period.
- Eat slowly and frequently. IF can become dangerous if you don’t get your needed caloric and nutrient intake for the day.
- During your eating periods, commit to getting enough nutritious foods.
- Prep your meals. Set aside time to organize some meals in advance. This will help you avoid a time crunch later. And, it keeps you on track for avoiding the pitfalls of processed or fast foods during your eating window.
- Add 2 to 3 tbsp. of healthy fats. Adding healthy fats to your meals, particularly your last meals of the day, will encourage your blood sugar levels to remain steady. A few popular ones to choose from are olive or avocado oil, and coconut butter.
Reluctant to make the plunge into IF just yet? No worries. Some might feel it’s just not their cup of tea…
As a great alternative to IF, consider following a “gut health diet”. Follow these tips to keep your gut in tip top shape:
- Eat a plant-based diet that’s rich in fiber
- Avoid processed foods which may contribute to dysbiosis and increase inflammation
- Incorporate fermented foods into your diet like kombucha, kefir, and miso
- Choose natural over artificial sweeteners and “fake” sugar
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat healthy fats
- Use antibiotics as a last resort, as they kill both good and bad gut bacteria
Most importantly, consult with our team on a custom plan to improve your gut health. Your efforts to follow a healthy diet compliments any holistic treatment plan we design.
Begin Your Journey to a Healthier Gut Today
As we’ve learned, gut health mirrors your global health. As opposed to the evidence that impaired gut stability has been linked to undesirable health conditions.
Lifestyle and dietary factors can negatively impact the overall functioning of your gut health. Processed foods are linked to inflammation and dysbiosis; while antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut microbiomes.
Intermittent fasting can be an added strategy on your quest to a happy and healthy gut. The key resource is consulting with one of our naturopathic doctors as to whether or not this approach can put you on the top of your game.
Finding the correct approach to meet your unique needs will contribute to receiving the best results. By working with our team at the Dr. Maura Practice, we’ll assess your body’s needs. Layering our findings with your desires – we can then formulate a plan that benefits you the greatest. IF may play an important role in this plan.
Contact us today to get started on your customized holistic medicine plan!