It seems like trends come and go. I remember fad diets from the past, but not many have survived the test of time. Our emphasis on dieting has become an American obsession. I have told patients for years to eat 3 meals a day and 2 snacks. I may have been wrong. There has been a recent focus on intermittent fasting in the research and dieting worlds – and for good reason! This practice touts benefits to gut health, detoxification, weight loss and cellular health. Dr. Dan Pompa has taught his theory on intermittent fasting for years and now solid research is being published to give proof on this subject.
Fasting is not a new concept. Think about our ancestors and their need to be hunter-gatherers in order to eat and survive. Thank goodness I can just drive to the grocery store these days! Nonetheless, they would gorge themselves for days and then have periods of fasting while they hunted again. Additionally, fasting has a purpose built on both cultural and religious practices that are still observed in some countries today.
A recent study published by Kahleova and colleagues, investigated 50,660 adult members from Seventh-day Adventist churches in the United States and Canada. The results showed that eating one or two meals daily was associated with a lower body mass index (BMI), as compared with three meals daily. They also found a positive relationship between the number of meals and snacks (more than three daily) and increases in BMI. Interestingly enough was the change in BMI related to the length of the overnight fast. It seemed that the longer the overnight fast, the lower the BMI. Their hypothesis suggests fasting has an effect on satiety hormones (leptin or ghrelin). So, how can we begin to compare older studies that showed a strong association with meal frequency and positive weight changes? I’m not sure they can be compared without doing a controlled, head to head study comparing the two methods for weight loss. For now, our suggestion is to eat within a 12-hour window daily and give your body a 12-hour fast overnight. Most research promotes only an 8-hour eating window for intermittent fasting, but for most families and individuals this time restriction may not be feasible.
One important benefit of a longer overnight fast is the enhancement of the migrating motor complex (MMC), which is found in the small intestine. This critical activity consists of three phases occurring over a period of 85–115 minutes. It has been described as the “intestinal housekeeper” that cleans leftover food particles, bacterial and fungal organisms from the stomach through the small intestine and into the colon. This process is vital to keeping bacteria and fungus, residing in the large intestine or colon, out of the small intestine. Both the small and the large intestines have their own microbiome necessary for the appropriate functions for each area. As you can imagine, the fasting interval overnight gives the body the chance to clean out the small intestine in preparation for the following day. If the MMC is not functioning properly, then a slower transit time can result in stasis of the food leading to problems such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO), chronic inflammation and constipation.
If you are considering improving your health with one thing, you may want to consider a longer overnight fast. This, coupled with adding more vegetables and clean water, may be the kick-start you need!
Look for Part 2 of this series, explaining how a prolonged overnight fast can prevent/treat SIBO/SIFO, reduce inflammation and help constipation.
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