There are two well-known sayings I stand by in my practice:
— If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the gut microbiome is the window to your health. And,
— You are what you eat– and so are the bacteria that live in your gut.
Before we get into this article, please just know that reading about the gut microbiome isn’t the easiest, so take your time and know that you’ll be leaving here with some good material. Read on!
Modern science continues to reveal the power that food, your microbiome, and the relationship between them have over your health and wellbeing.
The main message to be found in the latest studies: what you eat can alter the composition of your microbiome, and these changes in the human gut happen in an incredibly fast three to four days from changing what you eat.
That kind of turnaround is remarkable when you consider how many humans are afraid of change; it’s good to know their intestinal bacteria doesn’t harbor the same reluctance!
Dr. Lawrence David, assistant professor at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, says it best: “We found that the bacteria that lives in peoples’ guts is surprisingly responsive to change[s] in diet…within days we saw not just a variation in the abundance of different kinds of bacteria, but in the kinds of genes they were expressing.”
My staple sayings above reflect this news, and that’s why I stand by them.
So how do you go about altering your gut flora quickly and efficiently? Fortunately, there’s an answer I’ve come to rely on: intermittent fasting (IF).
Let’s look at the top three reasons intermittent fasting is good for your gut, and therefor good for you.
Reason 1: Spring Cleaning with the IF Cleanse
The first step of any recalibration is the removal of unwanted pathogens and gut flora we’ve unintentionally cultivated. IF is ideally positioned to help with this.
In fact, research published in Autophagy has shown that fasting helps to deepen cleansing by eliminating toxins such as dead cells, fatty tissue, intestinal mucus and other waste products stored in the body.
Even better: during the fasting period the body transitions from using glucose as a main source of energy to using fat.
Toxins stored in your body’s fats cells are also released, further detoxifying the system and often facilitating weight loss as an added bonus.
IF won’t just cleanse your gut of some pesky fat-promoting strains of bacteria; it can also help your system rid itself of unwanted attackers too.
A study published in The Scandinavian Journal of Immunology found that the changes made to the gut during intermittent fasting increased participants’ resistance to a strain of salmonella by triggering intestinal antibody production as well as pathogen elimination.
Who wouldn’t want a well trained “attack gut” to keep those bad bugs away?
Reason 2: IF as a Handyman
Once the unwanted inhabitants have moved out, repairs to the damage they’ve done will be necessary.
Luckily, IF is a great tool to repair the gut, not just clear it out.
In the Autophagy study I mentioned above, researchers also found that fasting effectively reduces the digestive workload.
If energy is no longer required for digestion, our gut cells can transition easily into repair mode.
With that energy beneficially diverted it will be utilized instead in increased metabolism and fortifying the immune system (I’ll talk more about that later).
IF can also fix the problem of inflammation.
Researchers used fruit flies to test the link between the brain and the gut and found that there is a “switch” that is flipped on during fasting that strengthens the gut lining, which promotes nutrient absorption, and reduces the inflammation associated with conditions like IBS. Why care about fruit flies? Their system is surprisingly similar to ours, and that means we may well have a comparable switch.
With its ability to strengthen the gastrointestinal mucosal lining, reduce oxidative stress caused from foods that generate excess free radicals, and reduce inflammation. IF is certainly a jack of all trades when it comes to fixing up a gut in need of renovations.
Reason 3: IF as a Healer
Repairing the physical damage done by past bad habits is one thing, but can IF help prevent or at least lessen the impact of — chronic digestive and metabolic problems? In a word: yes.
This brings us back to that Autophagy study from Reason 1, which found that IF triggers the use of fat as an energy source.
Well, that transition doesn’t just rid you of toxins and unwanted weight. According to a study in the 26th volume of Cell Metabolism, IF’s ability to activate “brown adipose” [fat] which results in higher thermogenic capacity for your metabolism.
Not only does it activate the brown adipose but it can also trigger the transition of white to beige adipose (the term for induced brown tissue), which is now being considered as a potential therapy to combat diabetes and obesity.
IF is even being explored as a possible approach to try in the prevention of cancer.
A Bioimpacts study found that our microbiota can help shape our immune responses, and in terms of cancer prevention, it could soon be used to restrict tumor formation or growth progress in certain individuals.
Lastly, it also has been shown to be potentially beneficial to those with multiple sclerosis (MS).
While studies proposing IF therapy as a potential source of relief for MS symptoms are promising, so far they have been limited to mice. With such proven potential, it may be just a matter of time before we start hearing about IF’s benefits in lowering rates of MS in human participants.
Stella’s RX: IF for Gut Repair
It’s important to note that IF is a tool for gut repair and optimization–it shouldn’t be a forever kind of deal. I recommend using it to recalibrate occasionally, as necessary, but then pair it with my Wild Mediterranean diet as a lifelong approach to eating well.
It’s also not something to jump into without sufficient thought or preparation.
That’s why I suggest using the Pretox described in my book, Wild Mediterranean, to start. These diets, like my Pretox approach to eating Wild, have been shown to boost beneficial strains of gut bacteria and reduce hunger by aiding in food intake control. Once cravings and stomach rumblings have been conquered, I then recommend pairing intermittent fasting with my traditional approach to eating Wild for the long lasting benefits I discuss in more detail throughout my website.
You shouldn’t have to depend on downing gallons of kombucha or popping probiotic supplements to foster healthy gut flora and a content GI tract.
If you would like a more efficient and scientifically tested way to say “yes” to the good bacteria and “no” to all the rest, IF may well be a great way for you to jump start that.
Please note though, that IF is not for everyone, and that there’s no “one-size fits all” approach to health. It’s best to consider it as a tool, and one that should be wielded responsibly, at that. If used right however, it certainly is powerful –and who doesn’t want a mighty ally along on a quest for best health?