Why Intermittent Fasting Is Good For Your Gut Health

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By Meghan Stoops, RDN

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

why intermittent fasting is good for your gut health

There’s been a lot of buzz going around intermittent fasting (IF) lately. If you haven’t tried it yourself already, you most likely know someone who has or have at least heard about it. 

You may have heard that IF can help you lose weight, improve certain conditions such as diabetes, and even improve heart health. But did you know that IF also has a lot of benefits for your gut health? Let’s look at what is IF, the importance of gut health, and how IF plays a role. 

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting has become widely popular for its benefits in weight loss and overall health but what makes it truly special is its simplicity. Intermittent Fasting is simply a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of fasting and periods of eating. In fact, most of us already practice Intermittent Fasting by fasting when we are asleep and breaking our fast with our first meal of the day (hence ‘Break-Fast’).

intermittent fasting

The main concept behind intermittent fasting is adjusting the timing of our meals during the day versus adjusting the foods we consume. This can easily help us reduce our caloric intake while also simplifying our daily routine. 

There are several methods to IF, such as the 12-hour method, the 5:2 method, and the alternate day fasting method, but the most popular is the 16:8. The 16:8 method restricts eating to no more than 8 hours each day, such as 12-8 pm. This leads to an overall reduction in calorie intake throughout the day, helping to induce weight loss. This works best if you continue your normal intake during those eating periods and avoid over-eating in response to the restricted eating times.

The Importance of Gut Health

Gut health is another huge topic in health and wellness lately. Our gut houses an enormous variety of different microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more, known as our microbiome. More and more research suggests that our microbiome plays a crucial role in our overall health, so much so that without them our chances of survival are slim to none.

Our gut microbiome plays a role in a large variety of different functions of our body, including digestion and absorption, blood sugar management, heart health, brain health, immunity, and more. The more diverse our microbiome, the better our body functions and the better our overall health.

Why Intermittent Fasting Is Good For Your Gut Health

Now that we know a little bit about Intermittent Fasting and the importance of gut health, what is the relationship between the two? Well, while many may turn to gut health supplements, like Power Blues, to benefit the health and wellness of their gut microbiome, eating habits and times may also play a surprising role in this. That being said, the exact mechanism behind these claims is still being studied. 

intermittent fasting benefits gut health

Several animal studies and some small human studies have found intermittent fasting and other forms of fasting to help increase the number of overall microbes in the gut and help contribute to increased microbial diversity, both important components of a healthy microbiome. 

These studies have also found fasting to help increase levels of the short-chain fatty acid, butyrate, a compound that helps to support gut health and reduce inflammation. 

Although there is promising evidence in animal studies, human studies are limited regarding the effects of IF on gut health. The studies available in humans mainly focus on Ramadan fasting practices and have not been consistent in their findings. It’s also important to note that there are many different variations of fasting, and much research is still needed in this area. Although studies are limited, they remain compelling, and more studies are likely in the future.

Additional Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Aside from its possible benefits for our gut, intermittent fasting has been long studied for other potential health benefits, including aiding in weight loss, improving insulin resistance, reducing inflammation, and improving blood pressure. These effects can help reduce the risk of developing other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. 

Many people who decide to do IF are doing it for its potential benefits for weight loss. A big factor in helping with losing weight is time-restricted eating during IF. The less time you can eat, the fewer calories you will likely intake if you don’t over-consume during your eating period. Some studies also suggest that short-term fasting helps to increase your overall metabolism so that you can lose weight faster.

IF has also been touted for its ability to help protect against type 2 diabetes by improving insulin resistance. This is done by helping to decrease overall body weight as well as reducing blood sugar levels. Other studies have found IF to show promise in helping to reduce inflammation in the body, another risk for chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. In addition, some studies have shown IF to help improve our resistance to oxidative stress.

Lastly, IF may be beneficial for your heart health. Various studies have shown IF to help with reducing key factors in heart disease, such as high blood pressure, increased inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity. Although more research is still needed on IF regimens and their effects on various aspects of human health, current research is promising for many positive health benefits. 

Additional Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  • Weight Loss
  • Improved insulin resistance
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved blood pressure 

Intermittent Fasting Regimen to Improve Gut Health

Some of the more well-researched intermittent fasting regimens include the 16:8 method, where you fast for 16 hours and can eat within 8 hours of your choosing, such as 12-8 pm, and the 5:2 method, where you eat normally 5 days out of the week and then limit your caloric intake to <600 the remaining calories 2 days out of the week, or a full 24 hour fast 1-2 times per week.

intermittent fasting improve gut health

The specific intermittent fasting regimen you choose will vary from person to person. Some may find they do best with a 16:8 regimen, while others may prefer a full 24-hour fast 1-2 days a week. When choosing your intermittent fasting method, be sure to choose one that feels sustainable for you and allows you to incorporate a healthy diet that includes a variety of different whole foods to maximize its benefits. Additionally, apps like DoFasting, can help keep you on track and informed when it comes to your IF routine.

Before starting an intermittent fasting regimen, consider your overall diet. Research on intermittent fasting and its benefits regarding gut health still requires more research, whereas there is a lot of research regarding diet and its effect on our gut. To get the most out of your IF routine for a healthy gut, be sure to include a variety of whole foods in your diet and emphasize probiotic and prebiotic food sources, such as fermented foods and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. 

Before considering adding an intermittent fasting regimen to your diet, always consult with your health care physician. Those who are pregnant, nursing, suffering from or at risk for an eating disorder, or who have certain chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, should likely steer clear of this type of eating pattern.

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Meghan Stoops, RDN

Meghan Stoops is a Registered Dietitian and licensed Nutritionist with a bachelor’s in Dietetics from San Diego State University. Meghan developed an interest in dietetics early on through her own personal struggles with nutrition misinformation. She began doing her own research, which sparked her passion for nutrition and it’s impact on our physical and mental health. Today, she takes take a non-diet, all-foods-fit approach to nutrition, and is devoted to teaching others that eating healthy does not mean restriction or sacrifice.