Intermittent fasting, or restricting eating to certain hours of the day, has gained a lot of attention in the past few years. Research has provided promising potential for its ability to improve metabolism, lower blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and even help clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers risk for cancer and enhances brain function.
How can fasting benefit gut health?
You don’t need to intermittent fast for optimal gut health, but it might help if you are someone who has a difficult time adopting other healthy habits to support your microbiome. Taking care of your gut health can improve your immune system response, improve digestion and absorption, decrease inflammation and stress, and increase insulin sensitivity.
In studies of mice that fasted 16 hours a day, some results indicate an improved presence of gut microbiota.
I like to use the analogy of a highway. Think of your digestive track as a highway that needs repair because 8-15% of our gut lining is damaged through the digestion process every day. You can’t repair a highway with traffic on it.
Leaving enough time between our last meal and when we go to bed can also improve our natural circadian rhythm. When this rhythm is disrupted it can negatively impact our energy, appetite, and digestion.
How to use intermittent fasting to improve your gut health:
- Have your last meal at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Go 12 hours without eating while you sleep (e.g. stop eating at 7pm and don’t eat again until 7 am).
- Give yourself 3 hours between meals and snacks to allow the migrating motor complex to sweep the food from your last meal from your small intestine (this can help prevent SIBO; small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
Fasting for longer than 12 hours might have benefits, but research is not robust enough for me to suggest it and it’s unclear what method is best.
Who should not try intermittent fasting?
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Those who are underweight or struggling with weight gain
- Those with a history of an eating disorder
- Those who find it triggers overeating during the feeding window
- Those who don’t want to! There are many other ways to improve your health.
In episode 11 of my podcast I discuss this topic in more detail.
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