Living inside the human gut are hundreds of trillions of microbes, including bacteria, archaea, viruses, and other microscopic life forms. That might sound scary, but these microbes are crucial for our health.
We are in good shape so long as the gut maintains a careful balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ species. However, if one or a few species multiply, throwing off that balance, devastating health effects can ensue.
One of these negative health effects is SIBO, a condition that causes uncomfortable digestive symptoms. The good news is that fasting for SIBO may reduce or even eliminate these symptoms. Find out why in this post.
Understanding Gut Health and SIBO
Regardless of the cause, SIBO is ultimately an issue of gut health. An unhealthy digestive system can increase the risk of SIBO. Conversely, SIBO can also have downstream and upstream effects that worsen digestive health.
One of the factors constituting a healthy digestive system is a balanced microbiota. The microbiota is the collection of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut—the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
In SIBO, populations of these microbes multiply to dangerous levels. They emit gases normally, but when certain types of microbes are abundant, they produce excessive gas. That gas is partly to blame for SIBO symptoms.
Fasting as a Tool for Gut Health and SIBO
Many gut health experts utilize a three-step approach to improving gut health, and fasting can be part of it. Here are the steps some health providers recommend for comprehensive SIBO treatment:
- Starving out excessive bacteria
- Eliminating bad bacteria
- Promoting good bacteria
Fasting can benefit every single step of this process. It can help’starve’ overgrown bacteria of their preferred food sources (i.e., carbohydrates, certain gases, and certain chemical elements), recycle remnants of bad bacteria into beneficial compounds, and create an environment for good bacteria to flourish.
We will talk more about the exact mechanisms by which fasting goes about these goals in a moment, but first, we want to explain the types of fasting to consider.
The Different Types of Fasting
Fasting is purposefully not eating food for hours or even days. The reasons why someone might want to fast range from religious purposes to health motivations.
In the health and wellness world, fasting has become a major buzzword. While experts may not agree on all the touted benefits of fasting, one thing is certain:. Fasting can help improve gut health and, therefore, benefit SIBO.
Yet, not all fasts are created equal for SIBO. Moreover, some fasting methods are not suitable for specific groups. Learn more about the types of fasting and who they may be right for next.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate fasting for SIBO is simple fasting, also known as meal spacing. Simple fasting encourages people to eat three well-rounded meals daily but avoid eating or drinking between them.
The theory behind simple fasting is that the digestive system needs time to work its magic after eating. The digestive system will not work as effectively if food enters the body before the previous meal is broken down.
Promote optimal digestion by eating every three to five hours and not snacking in between. People who must drink between meals can consume water, tea, or coffee.
12-Hour Fasting for SIBO
Another easy way to try fasting for SIBO is with a 12-hour fast. 12-hour fasts take place at night, giving the body ample time to restore digestive function as someone sleeps.
Another benefit of 12-hour fasting is that individuals will not experience the negative health effects of late-night eating. Inflammation, fat absorption, and blood sugar levels are higher in people who frequently eat late.
To try 12-hour fasting, choose a time to stop eating at night. After that, do not eat anything for the next 12 hours. An example would be if someone stops eating at 7 p.m. and has breakfast the following day at 7 a.m.
Intermittent Fasting for SIBO
Most people have probably heard about intermittent fasting. It is similar to 12-hour fasting in that people do not consume food for many hours at a time. However, intermittent fasts last longer than 12 hours.
Intermittent fasting has the possibility of having negative side effects. Fatigue, headaches, and anxiety are common complaints among people doing intermittent fasting. People trying intermittent fasting for SIBO should stop fasting if they experience stress, an aggravating factor for digestive symptoms.
As long as people keep these precautions in mind and talk to a doctor before starting any new diet, they can safely try intermittent fasting. Below, we discuss three types of intermittent fasting to consider.
16/8 Method for SIBO
The 16/8 method encourages people to fit their eating into an eight-hour window and fast for 16 hours per day.
A common way to try intermittent fasting is to fast all night and skip breakfast. For instance, someone might start eating at noon and have their final meal at 8 p.m.
Those who believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day can adjust the 16/8 method to their preferences. Try eating breakfast at 9 or 10 a.m. and having dinner or a late lunch at 5 or 6 p.m.
The 5/2 approach to intermittent fasting involves eating regularly five days a week. Then, the fasting person would alter their eating habits two days per week.
By altering their eating habits, we mean reducing their caloric intake. Most 5:2 methods involve cutting calories to only 500 to 600 per day. That is more than half the recommended daily caloric intake.
With such a significant calorie reduction, people on the 5:2 diet must eat nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods have a high amount of nutrition but are relatively low in calories.
Alternate Day Fasting
Alternate-day fasting (ADF), also known as the 4:3 diet, is similar to 5:2 intermittent fasting. Fasters eat normally four days a week and restrict calories for three days weekly.
On fasting days, individuals would reduce their food intake to around 500 calories per day. Alternatively, fasters can reduce their caloric intake entirely and only drink water on fasting days.
As with the 5:2 diet, it is vital for people to eat nutrient-dense foods on fasting days. People trying ADF for SIBO can also consider upping their caloric intake on non-fasting days unless they are trying to lose weight.
Extended fasting is challenging, but people have been doing it for millennia. It involves fasting for 24 hours or even days on end, making it more reminiscent of religious traditions common in Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
With so much history, we also have a ton of research into extended fasting. Studies have found benefits of extended fasting for weight loss, cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose levels, and insulin sensitivity.
People trying extended fasting for SIBO should proceed with caution, though. Fasting for too long can cause more harm than good for the gut microbiome, decreasing levels of both good and bad bacteria.
3 Day Fast for SIBO
In 2014, a study came out about the benefits of 72-hour fasts for the immune system. The researchers found that fasted animals experienced beneficial turnover of old immune cells. Additionally, a small group of cancer patients fasted for three days before chemotherapy and experienced fewer toxic effects.
70% of the immune system’s cells are located in the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. So, it makes sense that any diet benefiting immunity will also have an impact on gut health.
Fasting for three days may seem impossible for many. In that case, a three-day gut reset diet may work better. Instead of abstaining from food for days or even hours at a time, individuals restrict certain foods every day for 72 hours.
For example, on day one of a three-day gut reset, someone might eat foods that benefit digestive health and combat inflammation. On day one, incorporate high-fiber foods to promote beneficial gut bacteria. Fermented foods should be added on the third day to replenish good bacteria further.
People with SIBO who are considering fasting should always consult a healthcare provider first. Fasting is not suitable for everyone.
For example, fasting is not recommended for people under the age of 18, who have a history of eating disorders, who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or who have type 1 diabetes.
How Fasting Can Benefit Gut Health and SIBO
By now, readers may wonder: How exactly does fasting benefit SIBO symptoms? Fasting benefits SIBO symptoms in three main ways: improving gut lining permeability, balancing the gut microbiome, and promoting autophagy.
Learn about each of these benefits next.
Improved Gut Permeability
The gut lining is a critical structure of the intestines. It is responsible for keeping toxins and other harmful substances out of the gastrointestinal system and determining which nutrients get into the bloodstream.
An unhealthy gut can compromise the gut lining. One of the consequences is that toxins that cause SIBO symptoms, including bacteria and archaea, can seep into the small intestine.
One study found that low-calorie, 12-hour fasting-type diets are sufficient to reverse gut permeability.
A healthy gut is a balanced gut, and all types of fasting can promote both. Research has found that fasting impacts the diversity of the microbiota. Specifically, fasting increases the number of new microbes in the gut.
Gut-microbiome diversity is important for many reasons. The most important point for this discussion is that a diverse microbiome causes fewer gastrointestinal symptoms, including those characteristic of SIBO.
Autophagy and Cellular Repair
Autophagy is a natural process wherein the body breaks down worn-out cells. The components of those old cells are then broken down and recycled to create new ones. This process has implications for gut permeability.
Additionally, autophagy is required to repair damaged immune cells. Inflammation, an aspect of the immune response, is also associated with digestive complaints, so autophagy can help eliminate them.
One of the best ways to induce this cellular repair process is by starving worn-out cells of the nutrients they need to survive. Fasting is a way to do just that.
Does fasting help SIBO?
Yes, fasting does help SIBO by preventing toxins from getting into the gut, improving the health of the gut microbiome, and inducing autophagy and cell repair. The ultimate goal is to eliminate harmful bacteria causing someone’s SIBO symptoms, allow the gut to heal, and promote better digestion.
Are you searching for more expert advice about SIBO and other gut-related health conditions? At Revolution Gut Health, we believe that a healthier you starts with a flourishing digestive system.
Schedule a consultation to get all your fasting for SIBO questions answered by our gut health experts and find out if this is the right treatment for you.