Asking for a Friend, Does Intermittent Fasting Help Reset Gut Health?
Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but no one ever talks about the benefits of skipping breakfast. Waiting a few hours in the morning to eat your first meal or not eating for 16 hours at a time may sound crazy to some, but partaking in intermittent fasting is totally legit, and it can have some serious health benefits. So, asking for a friend, what are those benefits? More specifically, can it help me reset gut health?
- Rather than a diet, intermittent fasting is considered an eating pattern that rotates between fasting and eating periods.
- Having a healthy gut sets the tone for a happy and healthy body; gut health is connected to our immune system, mental health, skin, and autoimmune diseases.
- Research shows that intermittent fasting can reset gut health by reducing inflammation and improving diversity of gut flora.
What is intermittent fasting?
Contrary to popular belief, intermittent fasting, also known as intermittent energy restriction, is not considered a diet. Rather, it is simply an eating pattern that cycles between fasting and eating periods; it involves abstaining from food and drinks (other than water) for a specified period of hours or even days. (Yes, days!)
Currently one of the world’s most popular health trends, intermittent fasting is commended for its impact on weight loss, ability to increase energy, and its help with improving mental health and clarity, but the benefits don’t stop there; intermittent fasting (IF) reaps tremendous benefits throughout the entire body.
Specifically, when you fast, you improve your body’s insulin sensitivity, and in response, your insulin levels drop significantly; lower insulin levels make stored body fat more easily accessible. Additionally, human growth hormone (HGH) levels essentially skyrocket, reaping benefits for both fat loss and muscle gain. Fasting also helps protect against disease as a result of cellular repair and the change in function of genes.
The three most common methods of IF include:
- The 16/8 Method
This often daily method involves skipping breakfast and limiting the eating period to 8 hours (and, in turn, fasting for 16 hours.) For example, a daily eating period could be from 12 to 8 p.m.
- The Eat-Stop-Eat Method
This method, often done once or twice a week on nonconsecutive days (and should not be done more often than that!) requires fasting for 24 hours. For example, you could skip dinner one night and not eat until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 Method
This method allows you to eat normally for five days a week, but requires you to eat only 500-600 calories a day twice a week (again, on nonconsecutive days.)
There are a plethora of methods for intermittent fasting, and you have the freedom to choose one that realistically can be catered to your goals, preferences, or lifestyle. Although IF may sound dangerous, unrealistic, or just flat out crazy, it has been practiced commonly throughout human evolution. Fasting has been a natural part of many religions, civilizations, and eras over time (to some degree or another,) so don’t let it scare you away! But keep in mind that it isn’t for everyone.
Does it reset gut health?
Gut health refers to the physical state and functioning of our gut. But what constitutes our gut? The gut consists of organs such as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and the colon. Essentially, when talking about our gut health, we’re talking about keeping everything moving and grooving throughout the body.
The balance in our gut depends solely on our gut flora. Just like a fingerprint, your microbiome (all the bacteria in your gut) is unique to you, created partly from your mother’s microbiome and partly from your lifestyle and diet.
Having a happy and healthy gut forms the basis for the rest of our health, as it impacts nearly every aspect of the body. I mean every aspect. Not only is it the main source of absorbing and processing nutrients, but it serves as a center for communication and fights diseases. Gut health is connected to our immune systems, mental health, autoimmune diseases, our skin, and even certain cancers. Long story short: it may be time to start trusting your gut (literally) and giving it a little more TLC!
So what does it mean to “reset” your gut? (Sign me up, please!) Gut resets generally aim to restore the balance of your microbiome by minimizing inflammation; resets can take 2-4 days of fueling up on healthy and whole foods. In other words, the usual: poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, and certain medications (think: birth control and antibiotics) can upset the natural balance of the gut, but a reset to foster a healthy gut with a garden full of healthy gut flora can save the day.
In general, intermittent fasting can have a substantial impact on gut health. It can be extremely beneficial for reducing inflammation and improving conditions associated with aforementioned inflammation, including arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer's, and multiple sclerosis.
Any radical, considerable change in your diet will shift your microbial makeup; these extreme changes in your diet can alter the composition and the population of gut flora. Studies were conducted that compared participants’ gut microbiomes via their stool samples both before a radical diet change, and after a diet change. Results show that a gut reset took place, resulting in extremely different microbiomes before and after.
Furthermore, studies done on intermittent fasting and the gut microbiome done on mice revealed that IF can greatly improve diversity of gut flora, reduce inflammation, and increase the production of short chain fatty acids, which are advantageous microbial compounds. In short, the proof is in the pudding: intermittent fasting helps to reset your gut health.
Even so, there is a connection between our circadian rhythm and our gut. Our circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle that make up the body’s internal clock to carry out natural processes and functions. So think about the natural fasting schedule that you (likely) follow every day: we eat throughout the day and sleep for about 8 hours, unintentionally fasting.
During this time, our guts get much deserved R&R from its critical role of breaking down food and producing a variety of critical compounds to keep our system running smoothly. So even without participating in intermittent fasting, our guts get a reset with us while we sleep. Extending the fasting period to partake in intermittent fasting reaps even more benefits.
In conclusion, there are literally trillions of bacteria living in our gut and getting us through the day. Every. Single. Day. It’s like having a trillion little cheerleaders supporting you and keeping you healthy and happy! Intermittent fasting and skipping your breakfast can bring about a bounty of benefits, and will likely give your gut the reset it may need.
Remember: if you choose to dabble in the fasting world, make sure to fuel your body with nutritious, whole foods to give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs during your eating periods!
Written by Morgan Taylor