Intermittent fasting has become a worldwide lifestyle and health trend in recent years.
"Intermittent fasting" refers to someone going for an extended period of time without eating, followed by a period of eating normally. It tends to focus on when you eat, rather than what you eat. It is currently a popular trend for weight loss and may also offer a host of other health benefits, especially for our gut bacteria.
The most popular types of intermittent fasting include:
- Time-restricted eating: This involves fasting during certain hours of the day. It’s the most popular approach, as it works by extending the fast naturally during sleep.Different versions of time-restricted eating include 14/10, 16/8, and 20/4. If you follow the 16/8 method, you eat for 8 hours of the day — say, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and then fast for the other 16 hours, from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.
- 5:2 fasting: With this method, you eat your normal diet for 5 days out of the week, then reduce caloric intake on the other 2 days. This is usually to no more than 500–800 calories.
- Alternate-day fasting: This is fasting on alternate days - i.e. you fast on one day and then eat what you want the next day.
The Effects of Intermittent Fasting on the Gut Microbiome
So, how does intermittent fasting (IF) affect our gut health?
The process of digestion is a task of great energy expenditure for our bodies. When we are not eating, the gut has a chance to rest, repair and regenerate new cells.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to promote microbial remodelling through the growth of good bacteria and improved bacterial diversity.
IF has also been shown to improve our microbe's sleep cycle and circadian rhythm. When we are fasting, insulin levels drop and melatonin levels rise. Melatonin is your body's primary sleep-promoting hormone. This leads to us feeling more alert during the day and having a more restful sleep. It may therefore improve our sleep quality.
Can Intermittent Fasting Help with Gut Health?
Intermittent fasting has been suggested to have potential benefits for gut health, but the research in this area is still evolving, and the specific effects may vary from person to person.
Scientists have speculated that longer fasting periods could help strengthen the gut barrier and reduce chronic inflammation. This may lower our risk of developing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, autoimmunity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
It has also been thought to benefit those with intestinal permeability - also known as ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. This is where the gut lining is weakened, allowing toxins, partially digested foods and pathogens to enter the bloodstream. Fasting may lower the inflammatory process and help repair the gut lining, thus reducing the risk of insulin resistance, asthma, autoimmune conditions, obesity, and weakened immunity.
Despite these possible benefits, any new dietary protocol should always be discussed with your GP or with a qualified dietician. IF should be tried for at least 1-3 months for maximum benefits.
Fasting is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, those with a history of eating disorders or type-1 diabetics.
It’s important to listen to your body whilst fasting and to monitor any adverse symptoms you may feel. It's not an eating approach that's suitable for everyone, nor is it essential for gut health. If it's not something that's suited to your lifestyle, there are plenty of other ways to improve gut health.
How to Improve Gut Health
While having a break from eating can be a good way to reset our eating habits and give our gut a rest from digestive processes, this is not the only way you can improve your gut health and it not a necessary approach for everyone.
Eating a diverse range of nutritious, whole foods, getting enough sleep, consuming fibre and probiotic-rich foods, drinking plenty of water, and being physically active are all proven factors that can improve you gut health.
We also recommend considering taking a probiotic supplement if you need an extra boost of gut support. Our hero product Gut Care is a go-to, alongside our more tailored probiotics for immunity and skin - Immune Boost and Skin Health.
In summary, intermittent fasting can be a good tool to strengthen the gut, promote weight loss and reset our eating habits. It may also make us more productive, improve our energy, reduce inflammation, chronic disease, and strengthen our immunity.
But this is not the best and only approach for improving gut health! Ensure you are consistently practicing positive day-to-day eating and lifestyle habits to fully optimise your gut health.