We should all become more in tune with our gut function and health. The old saying ‘Listen to your gut feeling’ still rings true today, especially as we now know that the gut has such a profound impact on our health, wellbeing and function.
Improving gut health is said to be the key to improving immunity, efficiency of digestion and mental clarity. The Gut needs treating with care to improve and optimize our health. Evidence suggests that what we eat and how effectively we absorb nutrients within the gut literally affects the way we think and feel. Our daily choices determine whether we are helping or hindering our own wellbeing. Nice to know we have so much influence!
The primary function of the gastrointestinal tract is to facilitate the efficient absorption of important nutrients, whilst keeping the most harmful materials out. The mucosal membrane surface of the gut is the largest interface between our internal body and external environment and is said to be over 200 times greater than the surface area of the skin. This allows for maximum protection from ingested toxins, drugs and pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. 75% of Immune system processes are in the gut so a healthy digestive tract is vital to optimize health and wellbeing.
The importance of balanced gut bacteria
The gut is home to billions of bacteria, in fact you may be surprised to learn that we are in fact only 10% human, meaning we are actually 90% bacterial!
Balance of bacteria within the gut is vitally important to both determine and maintain good health. Gut bacteria significantly influences the function of the immune system, effectiveness of digestion and nutrient absorption as well as the manufacture of vitamins and hormones. In a healthy gut good bacteria ‘the good guys’ crowd out pathogenic strains of bad bacteria ‘the bad guys’ which can, if over dominant cause negative effects to health.
It is increasingly common to experience problems with the gut, which often go unnoticed until they become significantly symptomatic.
Common disorders of the Gut include:
- Increased Intestinal Permeability ‘Leaky Gut’
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease including Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Symptoms often include:
- Gas and bloating
- Inadequate digestion
Migraines, hormone imbalances, allergies, skin conditions and autoimmune conditions are also indicative of gut problems.
Modern day living exposes us to increasing levels of chemicals and toxins, further challenging the body’s systems. This increased toxic load can result in the gut and other detoxification organs within the body struggling to detoxify efficiently.
What does fasting involve?
Fasting facilitates a powerful, rapid and safe detoxification process by providing a period of concentrated physiological rest during which time the body’s natural healing processes are stimulated, resulting in improved gut repair and reduced toxicity.
Typically in modern day lifestyles the body only experiences brief periods of fasting whilst we are sleeping. Programs involving longer periods of fasting vary from a few days up to a few weeks. Juicing is a popular method for fasting, however soups or just water are also frequently used. Variables in time length and type of fasting tend to be dependent upon individual goals, tolerances, preferences and an individual’s health status.
Benefits of Fasting
Fasting helps to facilitate deeper cleansing by eliminating toxins such as dead cells, fatty tissue, intestinal mucus and other waste products stored in the body. During the fasting period the body transitions from using glucose as a main source of energy to using fat. Toxins stored in your body’s fats cells are, also released, further detoxifying the system and often facilitating weight loss as an added bonus! Fasting effectively reduces digestive workload as energy is no longer required for digestion and our gut cells are transitioned into repair mode. Energy is beneficially diverted and utilized in metabolism and the immune system.
Fasting can be effective for people with the previously mentioned gut related conditions that require a concentrated period of healing to resolve underlying problems or perhaps to speed up healing processes.
Fasting improves gut health by:
- Cleansing cells of accumulated toxins and waste products.
- Strengthening the gastrointestinal mucosal lining.
- Improving digestion
- Reducing oxidative damage
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving metabolism
- Balancing the gut microbiome.
A foundation for future health
Fasting can provide a clean foundation upon which the individual can be integrated back into normal daily life. A positive fasting experience should be supported with an emphasis on education to promote both integration of healthy lifestyle and nutritional food choices to maintain a healthy gut and benefits of fasting throughout the body.
Author: Katie Hotchkiss, a physiotherapist and student at the College of Naturopathic Medicine
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