I first started using fasting as a way to manage symptoms related to SIBO. I had so many symptoms manifesting in many different forms and coming from nearly every system of my body. After coming off of my third treatment prescribed by my ND at the time, with no perceived benefit I was at my wits end. I decided to try a 12 day supported fast that resulted in quelling much of the inflammation in my body, and helped me find a “baseline” from where I could make sense of what was going on with my body. I’ve since used many more of both short and long fasts for myself and with clients to help manage symptoms related to dysbiosis, adhesions, digestive valve dysfunction, pain, fatigue, brain fog, headaches and to kick off elimination diet protocols. I’ve found that it can be an amazing tool to help one go from feeling unhinged physically and mentally to rediscovering one’s equilibrium.
We know that fasting has been a ritual within most major world religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism for millennia – with dates being set aside for fasting on each of their calendars. We also know that humans evolved in environments where food would sometimes be scarce and other times plentiful, meaning that our body’s have adapted to function in a food-deprived state. However, something that isn’t centuries old is a diet consisting of nutrient depleted foods, synthetic and toxic ingredients. No longer can we say that 3 square meals per day will result in health, but rather more likely that they may result in metabolic dysfunction, degenerative disease or an undefinable state of being chronically depleted nutritionally, energetically and emotionally. If one is already chronically depleted or hormonally imbalanced, depriving oneself completely of nutrients over a lengthened period of time has the potential to worsen symptoms – but short or supported fasts can provide many of the benefits I mentioned above.
There are many different types of fasting, from water fasting to juice, broth or smoothie fasts. Studies of animal models and humans have shown that a variety of different fasting models, including intermittent fasting, fasting mimicking diets, time-restricted feeding, and periodic fasting, favorably influence various parameters of health, and can elicit positive disease outcomes in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and an array of other chronic illnesses .
With respect to autoimmune disease in particular, GreenMedInfo Research Group has summarized the following:
Fasting has been shown to reduce paracellular intestinal permeability, the precursor to all autoimmune disorders . Meaning that fasting reduces symptoms of Leaky Gut! Along with genetic predisposition and environmental triggers, compromised gut barrier integrity is a prerequisite for autoimmune disease development . The disruption of intestinal tight junction architecture is pivotal for loss of oral tolerance, since intestinal hyper-permeability enables the translocation of undigested food antigens, toxicants, and microbes across the mucosal barrier, eliciting an immune response from the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), which can manifest as autoimmune disease . In this respect, fasting can be incredibly helpful, since, ‘The autoimmune process can be arrested if the interplay between genes and environmental triggers is prevented by re-establishing intestinal barrier function’ . Reduce Leaky Gut, and you will reduce auto-immune type reactions.
GMI also found that fasting can:
. Trigger synthesis of glucocorticoids. These are steroids that our body produces naturally, but that otherwise are administered to autoimmune patients to reduce inflammation
. Enhance parasympathetic activity (PNS) – the part of our Nervous System that tells our body its time to Rest, Digest and Heal. Engaging the PNS brain can support the gut-brain axis leading to better intestinal motility, blood flow, and gastric secretions; thus reducing our risk for constipation, malabsorption, Dysbiosis and auto-intoxication.
. The increased Parasympathetic tone innervates cholinergic receptors on immune cells, modulating the immune system in an anti-inflammatory direction.
. Enhanced cholinergic anti-inflammatory neurotransmission through the vagal nerve inhibits release of inflammatory cytokines from glial cells, leukocytes, and macrophages. These are molecules that are generally implicated in auto-immunity, which fasting serves to suppress. .
. Reduce Oxidative Stress – Reduce free radicals and you can expect increased longevity, energy and less risk for disease
. Fasting may shift microbiota populations towards a healthier composition, such that they harvest less energy from the diet and favorably affect energy expenditure and storage
. Fasting can reduce Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). A condition where either commensal (normal beneficial species) or pathogenic bacteria make their way from the colon into the small intestine where they are not supposed to be.
. Stimulate DNA based repair mechanisms, stem cell-based regeneration, and autophagy of dead cells, debris, and amyloid beta plaques and tau protein, both of which are implicated in neurodegenerative diseases
. At the level of the brain, fasting enhances executive function and cognition, synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, mitochondrial biogenesis, synthesis of neurotrophic factors, and ameliorates inflammation
. Fasting leads to significant reductions in levels of leptin, a pro-inflammatory adipokine that is elevated in rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, Behcet’s disease, psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis .
. Fasting also improves ketone production, insulin sensitivity, hepatic glycogenolysis, adipose tissue lipolysis, and anabolic activity in muscle, all of which promote metabolic correction. A review of the literature also reveals that fasting improves many other metabolic biomarkers, such as glucose, lipids, leptin, and adiponectin (Patterson et al., 2015). Increases in adiponectin, which occur with fasting, are favorable since levels of this anti-inflammatory fat tissue-derived adipokine are compromised in multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and Sjogren’s .
So, what can one do to acquire the benefits of fasting without triggering hormone imbalance and the cascade of stress response from an already burdened body?
My Guide to Supported Fasting
1.) Like the research shows, the benefits of fasting come from caloric restriction, not necessarily starvation. We can continue to consume calories, just not as many as we would normally.2.) In order to help your gut bacteria receive the benefits, consume calories from foods or food substitutes that are absorbed within the first section of the small intestine. This may include an animal based protein powder such as Grass-fed Whey or Hydrolyzed Beef Protein. Or you can include bone broth or veggie broths, or juiced vegetables. Herbal teas with a small amount of wild honey are also permissible. Having a source of Amino Acids that you can sip from slowly throughout the day will help to keep your blood sugar stable and thus, minimize triggering of the stress response.Elemental Diet Formulas such as the Physician’s Elemental may be used, and especially beneficial for those with nutritional deficiencies.
3.) Rest. Fasting without adequate rest can be dangerous. I’m not saying you need to become glued to the couch, but keep things gentle. Instead of gym workouts try yoga, Chi-Gong or an oceanside walk.Fasting does tend to promote introspection, so you may want to keep a journal handy or attend a moon circle (like this one) with your lady friends.4.) For longer fasts, take a multi-vitamin/mineral 2x/day to ensure you aren’t becoming overly depleted in minerals/micro-nutrients. Just make sure your multi does not contain prebiotics, which would negate some of the beneficial effects you are aiming for.
If this post inspires you, send me a photo of yourself on instagram and let me know! Happy Fasting!
If you find yourself gravitating to water fasting more than a supported fast, please arm yourself with an experienced practitioner such as those at The Healed Tribe Clinic.
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