For those people dealing with gut problems, every day is an adventure. Fortunately, there are a number of dietary approaches that can help a great deal with symptom management.
Whether you’re talking about the Specific Carbohydrate diet(SCD Diet), low FODMAP diet, or the GAPS diet, many people can do things they weren’t previously able to do because gut symptoms that range from mild annoyances to debilitating pain, fatigue, and bloating can be managed…to an extent. This is great, but it doesn’t fundamentally solve the problem.
Let’s face it, no one wants to limit their food choices. Granted, most people could benefit greatly from a healthier diet. But who wants to go to a party and pass up on a slice of pizza because it will shackle them to the toilet for the rest of the day?
But what if I told you What may not necessarily be the biggest question you should be asking of your diet? What if When more important? Well, a new study seems to indicate that When may be as important, if not more, than What.
Autophagy prevents out of control gut inflammation
A recent study in fruit flies discovered that autophagy plays a central role in regulating the immune response in the gut to microbes. In the fruit fly, degradation of the protein Kenny via autophagy prevents inflammation from getting out of control.
Autophagy is a process where our cells degrade proteins that are damaged or no longer needed. This process is regulated by the circadian clock, such that autophagy occurs during the fasting period. I don’t think I need to point out that most people spend little to no time in a strictly fasted period, more on that in a bit.
In fruit flies where autophagy is blocked, Kenny accumulates which helps drive inflammation. This causes the flies to experience a physiological response similar to inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Unfortunately, this also leads to chronic, systemic inflammation that shortens the lifespan of the fruit flies.
Fasting, autophagy, and repair mode
The fact that the Nobel prize for physiology/medicine was recently awarded to a team that identified the molecular mechanisms that drive the circadian clock underscores the importance of circadian rhythms in the health of all animals, humans included. The reason why is fairly basic: the organ systems in your body are going to repair themselves when there is downtime to do so. This is why autophagy occurs during the fasted state.
A simple analogy is performing preventative maintenance on your car. You can’t change the oil in your car while the engine is running and not expect to cause some damage to it. In the same way, metabolic processes that break things own, say food for energy, need to be separated from anabolic processes that build you back up, say muscle repair and growth. Failing to have these periods simply means your body will accumulate more damage over time.
Light exposure and the feeding/fasting cycle are the 2 primary factors that help set your circadian clocks. Fortunately, when we’re young, the clock seems to function pretty well on it’s own. However, when we age, we become more dependent on these 2 factors to differentiate between run the engine time and repair time.
The gut is going to repair itself best when we are in a fasted state. However, it’s important to understand what that really means. From the perspective of switching to repair mode, the gut isn’t going to begin repairing itself until food is out of there, which is going to take at least 8 hours after a meal for the stomach and small intestine.
Keep in mind, that’s when it starts. I’d put 12 hours as the bare minimum one can be without food and expect any significant level of repair to take place. And that would be in someone with no outward signs of gut dysfunction.
A longer fasting period would be more appropriate for someone with current gut problems, probably closer to 14 hours. I wouldn’t expect dramatic results instantly either. Think of your gut problem like a broken arm. Once you stop using your arm after you break it, it doesn’t heal overnight. Your body needs time to heal itself.
In a recent podcast, Dr. Satchin Panda stated that people with gut issues such as IBS tend to see substantial improvement when they do time-restricted feeding, restricting food intake to a 12 hour window during the day. I’ve run a few people through time-restricted feeding, albeit in a very specific way that involves layering food intake, light exposure, and physical activity together. Here’s a review from one of my peeps:
“I’m happy to report after years of multiple daily, painful, debilitating diarrhea and fatigue, I’ve gone a whole month without any diarrhea. My stools still aren’t perfect, but it’s a tremendous improvement. I think the CRP has helped quite a bit. I’ve also been following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for about a year (which tries to regulate gut bacteria for those with IBS/IBD), but didn’t see a lot of progress with it until starting the CRP. I no longer seem to have any issues after eating fatty foods like ribeye steaks either.”
It’s important to point out that this progress wasn’t overnight, it took approximately 3 months to get from point A to point B for this gentleman. But, if anything, it should give you an idea as to why you should care about When just as much as you care about What to heal a damaged gut.
Evidence seems to be piling up that the 24 hour eating orgy that represents the Western diet may be a major contributing factor to the increase in gut problems in the US. Disruption of circadian rhythms, which are primarily regulated by the feeding/fasting cycle in the organ systems outside of the brain, have been implicated in a number of gut disorders, including IBD.
This new data on the regulation of gut inflammation via autophagy provides more evidence on the importance of proper circadian rhythms for gut health. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is the one and only factor you need to address to fix gut problems, I think it’s safe to say it’s something that absolutely must be addressed in one way or another to fix a damaged and unhealthy gut.
Looking to address the timing issue but having trouble trying to figure out how? I developed a program to help people do just that called the circadian retraining program. In fact, that’s the very program used to get the results in the quoted testimonial above.
The Circadian Retraining Program consists of over 10 hours of powerpoint presentation videos and a facebook group where I drop new research and help people having issues setting up their daily circadian schedule. The program can be purchased via paypal for $127. If you’re interested, fill out an email request and get started today!