Exactly How Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Achieve A Healthy Gut
More often than not, I see an unhealthy gut as the underlying factor to almost every one of my patient’s health problems in my telehealth functional medicine clinic. And for many of my patients, they’ve tried almost everything to repair it including supplements, bone broth fasts, and elimination diets. But it’s not until they come to me that they consider intermittent fasting as a tool to heal their microbiome.
While fasting has a wide variety of well-known health benefits, it’s ability to improve gut health is drastically overlooked. When you fast, you are giving your gut a much-needed rest - a gastrointestinal siesta if you will. In fact, it’s a point I cover in depth in my latest book, Intuitive Fasting. It’s hard to fathom how simply taking a break from food can restore your gut health. But once you learn how it actually changes your gut and just how impactful it can be, you’ll be ready to try it for yourself. So let’s take a look.
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First, Let’s Acknowledge That Your Gut Needs A Break
I bet you didn’t realize that digestion uses 10% of your body’s total energy. Yes, you read that right. Chewing, making saliva, and swallowing all requires energy. And that’s just the beginning. Digestion requires your stomach to produce acid, hormones to regulate hunger signals, and enzymes to break down macronutrients.
Additionally, your body produces almost 2 gallons of liquid - water, enzymes, mucus, bile, and base salts - all while your gastrointestinal tract is making rhythmic muscular contractions to send your food through your intestines so it can be absorbed into your bloodstream for your body to utilize.
That’s a lot of work! When you are constantly eating throughout the day, your digestion isn’t given much of a break. Talk about burn out. But fasting gives our gut the rest it is craving. And not only that, fasting works to repair your gut at the very cellular level.
How Fasting Changes Your Microbiome
1. Fasting restores your gut-metabolism connection
Metabolic problems take root in the gut. Research has seen this time and again with studies showing (1) that gut dysfunction and poor microbiome diversity is more common in overweight individuals. But research also shows (2) that fasting can reduce the absorption of bacterial endotoxins linked to insulin resistance and obesity risk.
2. Fasting regulates your microbiome
Just like the ocean tides ebb and flow throughout the day, so do the different colonies of bacteria in your microbiome. These populations of bacteria increase and decrease depending on if we are awake, eating, or sleeping. This circadian rhythm of your microbiome is normal and happens on a daily basis but continuous eating can throw off it’s normal pattern. Because our bodies aren’t built for 24/7 eating, fasting can reset your microbiome’s natural ebb and flow.
3. Fasting improves gut inflammation
Systemic inflammation usually begins in the gut. While fasting lowers gut-specific inflammation (3) in health problems like Crohn’s disease and IBS, it can also lower (4) inflammatory markers like IL-6 and CRP that contribute to inflammation in other areas of the body besides just your gut.
Thankfully, your gut is a quick learner. It responds to fasting extremely well with studies showing it can start changing your gut for the better within hours. If you’re ready to dive in, but need a little help getting started, check out my book Intuitive Fasting, for the complete guide on how to heal your gut by establishing a fasting practice that works for you.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.