The gut is composed of the Gastro Intestinal system and often referred to as the 2nd brain.
The Gastrointestinal system includes the mouth and teeth, the oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestine, the colon or large intestine, the pancreas, liver and gall bladder.
Our large intestine or colon is home to billions of bacteria, in fact, in a 70kg male there are approximately 30 trillion human cells and an estimated 30-60 trillion bacterial cells. This symbiotic bacterial system is termed the micro-biome. You may have heard the phrase ‘good bacteria’ and ‘bad bacteria’, well the micro biome, as long as it stays where its supposed to and doesn't get the chance to travel around to other parts of our gut are the good guys.
Unfortunately, poor diets high in sugars, not dealing with emotions appropriately, not performing tasks that keep our brains activated and unfortunately the use of frequent medications such as antibiotics and contraception can upset the microbiome and thats when it may start to give us problems.
Those with genuine gut problems may suffer certain symptoms such as;
- Regular constipation and or loose stools
- Poor concentration
- Brain fog
- Mood disturbances
And a whole host of other possibilities depending on the history and severity of the problem. Unfortunately, with the inclusion of other factors there is correlation between the severity of gut issues impacting the micro-biome and autoimmunity.
Even if you are symptom free, the following practices can be beneficial to the health of your gut and all of the happy little bacteria the live there running the show.
Intermittent fasting refers to a reduced ‘feeding window’ and extended ‘fasted state’. A classic way of approaching this is the 16/8 split.
That means 16 hour fast and 8 hour feeding window. People will commonly run the fasting time between 9pm and 1pm, eating all of their calories then between the corresponding 1pm to 9pm window. This time split can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle and isn't as hard to do as you would think if you are completely new to the idea of not eating for a slightly extended duration.
Other fasting time splits could be:
12pm - 8pm
11am - 7pm
Or if you get up very early, around say 5am or before
10am - 6pm
It takes around six to eight hours for the body to metabolise glycogen stores, at which point it shifts to fat as the primary fuel source. 16 hours fasting time is really the key here.
Starving the bad bacteria
If you only consume water during the fasting state and even take some light to moderate exercise you will be burning through those glycogen stores nicely. Eating sensibly and cleanly during the feeding window, which means not gorging on sugar will result in effectively starving the bacteria in your gut that make you crave sugar in the first place!
Intermittent fasting has been shown to boost growth hormone in both men and women. Sometimes referred to as the ‘fountain of youth hormone’.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase production of the protein Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). If you've ever felt particularly chipper and pumped about a creative phase your experiencing, chances are BDNF was high. There is a direct link between the large intestinal health and BDNF.
BDNF is also present and important for neuromuscular function.
Cellular adaptation and brain cleaning
Fasting increases our ability to deal with oxidative damage within the cell. When we remove sugar, bad carbohydrates and exitotoxins from the diet, whilst providing a regular and extended period of time in which the cells can heal, the damaging effects of unhealthy lifestyles begin to unwind.
When fasting, our cells can also be considered to be under a certain level of stress. This is "good" stress, much like appropriate exercise, to which there will be a positive adaptation.
If you are keen to give this lifestyle a go, start slow and easy. Begin with one to two days x week and make sure you always have good water on hand. Hunger pangs are just habituated hormonal responses. They tend to disappear within 10minutes or so. If you feel that intermittent fasting is for you, gradually build up to more consecutive days.
The benefits will be noticed over an extended period of time, for example over an 8 week period or so. There are plenty of people that restrict their caloric intake time to a 6-8 hour window on a daily basis.
See how you get on and record how you feel.
Timed Water Intake
If you don't fancy Intermittent fasting then this next option can also work in improving health of the Gastrointestinal system.
Delay eating breakfast for at least 60 - 90 minutes from waking. During that time, consume anywhere between 500ml and 1.5ltrs of water depending on your body size. There is no need to purge with water immediately upon waking. Simply delay eating for an extra 90 minutes and consume cold water during that time.
As we have already covered, the fasted state is one of healing and regeneration. There are obviously many benefits to maintaining adequate hydration levels but consuming water on an empty stomach may aid in the detoxification processes.
The vagus nerve is a long cranial nerve that connects all of our internal organs to the brainstem and subsequently the brain. One of the big roles of the vagal nuclei is to fire down to the gut to promote motility.
Within the gut are further complexes of nuclei called migrating motor complexes or MMC’s. These guys fire the smooth muscles of the intestinal walls promoting peristalsis and crucially they control the timed opening and closure of the intestinal valves.
The MMC’s should be fired eleven times per day. It has been shown that in those with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO, the MMC’s only fire three times per day. SIBO is a presentation in which bacteria that should only reside in the large intestine manages to migrate in to the small intestine where it shouldn't be. In some cases, this is due to poor vagal tone.
A simple way to train the vagus nerve just like any other part of the body with a view to improving gut motility is gargling.
Before every meal take water in to the mouth and gargle nice and hard until you feel it becoming difficult. Spit out the water and eat your meal.
This is simply an activation drill for a very important part of the brain that can lead to improved digestion and gastrointestinal health.