New study identifies key factor in regenerating the gut wall

Well, it seems as though it’s gut week this week as another amazing study has been published that may make a few of you who eat 5-6 meals a day a little concerned.  Especially if you have some sort of functional bowel disorder.  If you read my last blog on the best way to prevent “leaky gut”, this data gives us a glimpse in to one way that hyperglycemia may induce leaky gut.

In this study, researchers put mice through a 24 hour fast to determine what effect it has on intestinal stem cells.  Intestinal stem cells(ISCs) are crucially important to a healthy gut and preventing it from leaking by replacing damaged and dying cells.  Of course, as we get older, we have fewer intestinal stem cells which likely contributes to our declining gut health in old age.

Their findings were pretty amazing.  A 24 hour fast promoted a doubling in the regeneration potential of the intestinal wall in young and old mice by boosting stem cell regenerative capacity.  Let’s take a deeper look.

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Fasting, fat, hyperglycemia, and a healthy gut

To determine why fasting promotes a greater regenerative capacity of intestinal stem cells, the researchers began tinkering around with metabolic pathways.  They found that blocking the rate-limiting step in fatty acid oxidation in intestinal stem cells reversed their regenerative capacity.  In other words, using fat for fuel programs intestinal stem cells to regenerate the gut wall.

They also used a pharmaceutical drug to stimulate fatty acid oxidation.  When they did, they saw an even greater improvement in ISC regenerative capacity in old mice.  Investigating a little further, they found that older mice have an impaired capacity to use fatty acids for fuel when compared to young mice.  This may be due to impaired mitochondrial function.

As we get older, our ability to regenerate the cells that make up the wall of our gut decreases.  While we don’t know why this is, it’s interesting to note that blood glucose levels tend to increase as we get older.  With sufficient glucose available, ISCs will favor glucose metabolism over fatty acid metabolism in the mitochondria.

Another study recently found that blocking pyruvate from entering the mitochondria in ISCs boosted their proliferation.  In cellular metabolism, glucose is converted in to pyruvate which is then metabolized in the mitochondria.  Thus, it appears that the activity of ISCs is strongly dictated by what energy source they metabolize.

In the fasted state, when ISCs are forced to rely on fatty acid oxidation in mitochondria, this results in a greater regenerative capacity.  Ultimately, this will lead to a healthier gut.

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The ketogenic diet and seasonal availability of food

What discussion on fatty acid oxidation would be complete without mention of the ketogenic diet?  With the understanding that increasing fatty oxidation leads to a greater regenerative potential of ISCs, does this indicate that a ketogenic diet may be best to promote a healthy gut?

Based on the mechanism identified in this study, I certainly think a ketogenic diet will improve the regenerative potential of ISCs.  However, regenerative potential of ISCs is just one component of gut health.

One significant problem with a ketogenic diet is that it’s low in fiber.  When starved of fiber, microbes in our gut turn their hunger towards our inner mucus layer.  In terms of ideal gut health, a thicker mucus layer is better as it keeps bacteria from directly interacting with the cells that make up the intestinal barrier.  Of course, consuming fiber with a ketogenic diet would ameliorate this concern.

Generally speaking, however, I’m not a big fan of constant exposure to a ketogenic diet.   A more evolutionary correct approach would involve seasonal variation in the diet.  We see seasonal changes in the microbiome of gorillas and modern day hunter gatherers as a consequence of food availability.

This presents as a period of high fiber intake that promotes a microbiome filled with fiber-fermenting bacteria followed by a period of lower fiber/higher sugar fruit consumption that causes a microbial shift that consumes the inner mucus layer.  This may be the ideal scenario with annual clearing of the mucus layer preventing  microbial overgrowth in the mucus layer separating bacteria from the cells that make up our intestine.

This may be where a seasonal ketogenic diet may be useful, to reduce the mucus layer for a period to clean it out.  Periodically performing prolonged fasts or longer periods of fiber abstinence may provide similar results.  Of course, a high quality, whole foods diet is preferable.

Conclusion

On average, the cells that make up our gut wall are replaced every 3 days.  Additionally, our gut is exposed to damaging stimuli on a daily basis through the foods we eat.  The health of the gut is ultimately dictated by the regenerative potential of the intestinal stem cells that reform and replace the intestinal barrier.

This new study provides evidence that periods of fasting promote the regenerative potential of our intestinal stem cells by switching to fatty acids as a fuel source.  Although this study didn’t address shorter periods of fasting, the mechanism by which fasting promotes ISC regeneration potential is something we should experience every day when we abstain from food for 10-14 hours.

This evidence underlies the circadian dichotomy of needs where our active period is dominated by use and accumulation of damage and our rest period is dominated by repair from the days work.  It’s no coincidence that our activity period is dominated by glucose metabolism as consuming meals raises blood glucose while our rest period tends to shift towards fatty acid oxidation as we fast.  Going against this may be a contributing factor to the increase in functional bowel disorders we see today.

Most people I work with don’t think lifestyle can really make that much of an impact on their gut health outside of an uber-restrictive diet or a crap ton of supplements. It’s not until they truly give it a try that they realize the entire digestive process is under complete circadian control.

But it’s important to not half-ass it. Most people may tinker around with blocking blue light or play around with time-restricted feeding without addressing other important factors or getting the nutrients critical for optimizing this process. It’s not enough to do TRF, you need to layer your circadian exposure appropriately, particularly if your digestion isn’t working properly. That’s why I consolidated all the information I was telling clients in to the Circadian Retraining Program.

The program covers all aspects of getting your circadian house in order. What is the best way to start off your day? How should you integrate light exposure, physical activity, and the feeding/fasting cycle to optimize digestion? Which nutrients do I need to make sure that my circadian rhythms can promote health? How should you approach coffee to limit digestive distress? What order should I address these things if I have adrenal dysfunction? Why is establishing proper blood glucose control important and how do I do it?

Boy, that seems like a lot of questions, doesn’t it? Well fortunately, I’ve consolidated that information in to the Circadian Retraining Program. I say consolidated, but the program is over 7 hours worth of video and growing. But you don’t need to hold out until new modules come along.

When you purchase the program, you not only get all of the modules, you get all of the future updates as well. There’s also a quick start guide for those who just want to jump right in to it. And as an added bonus, you get access to the private Facebook group where I help guide people if they have questions. The program is $97 and you can purchase it by clicking the “Make a Donation” button below. What are you waiting for? The first step to a healthy gut is just a click away!

 

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