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Fasting for Gut Health and Digestion: How Can It Help You?

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Kasparas Aleknavičius, MD November 22, 2021

Gut health is incredibly important to your overall health. A healthy digestive system and balanced gut microbiome can be the difference between a healthy and energized life to feeling sluggish and getting ill more easily.

Intermittent fasting can be linked to gut health in a few ways. In this article, we’re going to look at what the benefits of fasting are for good digestive health.

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How Exactly Does Your Gut Microbiome Work?

The gut microbiome is made up of millions of microbes of all different kinds and species. Some are beneficial and some have the potential to become harmful, but all work in a delicate balance to keep your digestive system as healthy as possible.

A healthy gut essentially means you have the right balance between good and bad microbes in your gut. The gut microbiome has been linked to everything from immune health to mental health to gastrointestinal disorders.

It is thought that the more diversity in the human gut microbiome, the better the overall health of the human body. Caring for the beneficial bacteria in your gut is incredibly important to maintain good health. This can be done in several ways, including through a diverse and healthy diet, eating more fermented foods, and trying out intermittent fasting.

The Top Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

There are many factors that can affect your gut bacteria, including:

  • Your diet: What you eat has a profound effect on your gut bacteria and how they are balanced.
  • Any medications that you take: Many medications can change the make-up of your gut microbes, including herbal remedies, antibiotics, and medication that treats type 2 diabetes.
  • Certain illnesses: Viruses and bacterial infections can disrupt your gut microbiota.
  • Genetics: Like many parts of human health, there is a genetic component to your gut microbiome.
  • Method of delivery and infant feeding: Believe it or not, the way you were born (through traditional delivery or a C-section) and how you were fed as an infant can also affect your gut microbiome.
  • Stress levels: The link between the brain and the gut is strong, and high-stress levels can actually lead to an imbalance in your gut microbiome.
  • Lack of sleep: As with stress, not getting enough sleep can impact your gut.

While many factors can affect how your gut microbiome is balanced, there are some universal signs of an unhealthy gut. These are as follows.

  • Abdominal upset: This may include digestive problems, like bloating, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn.
  • Losing weight without meaning to: If you have noticed you’re unintentionally losing weight, this could indicate gut issues.
  • Fatigue and sleep problems: There is research to suggest that gut issues can lead to sleep disruptions.
  • Skin conditions: There is thought to be a link between skin conditions, like psoriasis, and digestive health.
  • Food intolerances: Intolerances mean that your body has difficulty digesting certain foods and research suggests this is down to the balance of bacteria in your gut.

Having an unhealthy gut can have huge implications for your health. It can lead to issues with your immune health, your hormone levels, and your risk of developing certain illnesses. In addition, digestive issues can lead to poor weight management.

If you’re struggling with an unhealthy gut, one of the ways you could restore some balance is by trying out an intermittent fasting style, like the Leangains diet or the OMAD method. Research indicates that the intermittent fasting method may play a role in rebalancing gut microbes.

4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Helps Your Gut Microbiome

Intermittent fasting has a few health benefits for the gut. We have summarized them below.

1. May protect against a leaky gut

Leaky gut is a condition where the barrier of the gut is weakened and allows the passage of particles out into the bloodstream. During fasting periods, you don’t eat for long periods, protecting your gut from the inflammatory proteins that can cause this weakening.

Research has shown that fasting can reduce gut permeability, which significantly reduces leaky gut symptoms. It also reduces your risk of developing an autoimmune disease, of which leaky gut is a precursor.

2. Promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting has a positive effect on gut bacteria, encouraging the growth of healthy and beneficial bacteria. More good gut bacteria means that your body is able to break food down, absorb nutrients, and supply essential nutrients to the body.

3. Ensures overall bacterial diversity in the gut

While some of the gut benefits of intermittent fasting can be attributed to reduced caloric intake, there is also evidence to suggest that the act of fasting may increase the diversity of gut bacteria.

Indeed, one study found that certain kinds of bacteria actually flourished during fasting periods, increasing the diversity of microbes in the gut.

4. Reduces gut inflammation

Gut inflammation can cause several health issues, including bloating and abdominal discomfort. It can also make the absorption of nutrients difficult for the body.

There is evidence that intermittent fasting, particularly alternate-day fasting, is an excellent method of reducing gut inflammation.

Does Prolonged Fasting Have the Same Effect on Gut Health?

The best methods of intermittent fasting for gut health are types when you fast for between 12 and 16 hours. These include the 12-hour fast, the 14/10 method, and the 16/8 method.

While most research has been undertaken on short-term fasting, there is some evidence that longer fasting periods could also be beneficial for gut health. Indeed, research suggests that prolonged fasting could be an effective tool against metabolic disorders and other illnesses in humans.

While prolonged fasting may help with gut health, it is always best to speak with a healthcare provider before trying anything like this for gut health. There are also some people who should not try prolonged fasting, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, anyone who has had eating disorders in the past, and anyone with a condition that would be exacerbated by fasting.

Foods That Keep Your Gut Healthy

Below, we have summarized some of the best foods you can consume to support better gut health. These should be consumed during the eating period of whatever intermittent fasting style you choose.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha, all contain probiotics. Probiotics are integral for gut health and getting more of them into your diet can help to rebalance your gut microbiome and improve your gut’s overall health.

Collagen-boosting foods

Collagen is a protein that is produced by the body. It plays a role in tons of bodily ​​functions and helps to repair the gut lining. Collagen-boosting food helps to stimulate the production of collagen protein.

Foods that boost collagen include bone broth, fish and shellfish, berries, and citrus fruits.

Foods high in fiber

Fiber is essential to the health of your digestive health and gut flora. It comes in different forms, including soluble, insoluble, and prebiotic fiber. Getting a diversity of fiber-rich food in your diet is best for your gut.

Fiber-rich foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Try to eat a variety of these foods to get all the different forms of fiber into your diet. They all play a different role in your health.

Avoid processed foods

Ultra-processed foods contain very little dietary fiber, lots of additives, and plenty of refined carbs. All these components together can lead to an imbalance in your gut microbiomes.

For better digestive health, we recommend eating whole and healthy foods rather than processed foods.

5 Things to Consider Before You Start Fasting for Gut Health

If you’re considering trying fasting to improve your gut health, there are a few things we recommend considering before trying it. We’ve looked at these below.

1. Know your food intolerances

Food intolerances can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and other digestive problems, which may make you think you’ve got gut problems. There are lots of steps you can take to identify intolerances, including speaking with your doctor and trying an elimination diet.

You may find that your gut problems are coming from your body not being to digest certain foods, rather than a gut issue.

2. Consider a combination of fasting and keto

The keto diet is a method of eating where you increase your food intake of healthy fats and reduce the number of carbs you eat. This is to push your body into the state of ketosis, where your body burns stored fat for fuel rather than blood glucose.

The keto diet is used mostly for weight loss, but there is some evidence that it could help reduce inflammation in the body, which may support better gut health.

3. A healthy gut goes beyond your diet

Both your activity level and your stress level can affect your gut health. If you live a sedentary life, you should try adding more exercise to your daily routine. This could also help to reduce your stress levels too.

Other ways you can reduce stress include reducing workloads, setting boundaries, taking up yoga and meditation, and trying out mindfulness.

4. Don’t do it alone

If you’re totally new to fasting, you’re not alone. The DoFasting website has plenty of information for all types of fasting, helping you to find the method for you. We’ve also got a DoFasting app that can support you as you progress on your gut health journey.

Intermittent fasting is commonly used for weight loss, but we want our readers to reap all the benefits of IF, whether for dieting or for improving their health. Check out the website and join our community on the app to get help when you need it.

5. Be on the same page as your doctor

Whenever you’re making big changes to your diet, it is always best to consult your doctor about them. They can help you find the best methods and discuss any side effects or problems you may encounter.

We always recommend speaking with your doctor before starting any kind of intermittent fasting method for better gut health.

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Conclusion

Intermittent fasting has been shown to help improve your gut and reduce any digestive symptoms you are experiencing. It is also thought to boost overall metabolic health and boost the diversity of your gut microbiomes.

We recommend trying out time-restricted feeding for better digestive health. However, you should always consult your doctor and take any steps they recommend before making any big changes to your diet.

Author

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Kasparas Aleknavičius, MD
  • Head of Medical Affairs at Kilo Health
  • Medical Doctor at Vilnius University, Lithuania
  • Partnering with the EU-funded Young50 and EUPAP projects

Kasparas Aleknavicius is a medical doctor that graduated from Vilnius University, working as head of medical affairs at Kilo Health. After nearly 5 years in the industry, Kasparas focuses on digital health and is looking for innovative ways to help people lead healthy lifestyles through digital health and wellness platforms.

You can find Kasparas on LinkedIn and follow his latest research on Medium.

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