Inflammation is a silent killer, which is why Intermittent Fasting (IF) can be such a powerful tool for accelerating healing after trauma.
On February 23rd, 2004, Time Magazine came out with a highly publicized cover of a burning body with the title “The Secret Killer-Inflammation.”
In that article, they went into extensive detail about how long-term, uncontrolled inflammation within the brain and body was being attributed to nearly every chronic health condition known to man. From Alzheimer’s to heart disease and cancer, the article discussed how chronic inflammation within the body was a ticking time bomb for creating health issues down the road.
For most patients making their way into our office at The Neural Connection, inflammation is at the top of the list for factors to address, especially when trauma has been involved. Traumatic events to the brain and body usually result in prolonged and chronic inflammatory responses, which can cause long-term and re-occurring damage over time if left untreated.
And don’t be confused; This inflammation isn’t the type of inflammation you acquire after a fall where you can see swelling or bruising.
It’s the type of inflammation that makes you feel “off.” It might change how you’re able to digest food or cause indigestion symptoms after eating foods you used to love. It can trigger symptoms of persistent fatigue, confusion, and altered sleep patterns. It can cause chronic pain, dizziness, disorientation, headaches, and virtually every post-concussion symptom recorded.
And above all else, it is the gasoline on the fire that causes chronic symptoms to persist for days, weeks, months, and years, even when your imaging and diagnostic testing is normal.
Inflammation affects every cell, organ, and tissue within your body, which is why it is so difficult to nail down a specific cause of it… But the body is resilient, and so are YOU!
One of the reasons why Intermittent Fasting (IF) has become so popular over the last decade is due to its profound ability to dampen unwanted inflammation to heal the brain, gut, and body. Intermittent Fasting is a short-term dietary protocol consisting of a “fasting” period for a specific duration of time (usually 16-18 hours, leading to 24-48-72 hours for those with enough experience) to allow the body to heal itself and focus on internal repairs.
Fasting is powerful because it allows the body to focus on “taking out the trash” and performing necessary internal remodeling by not focusing sustained energy and resources towards digesting food. As it turns out, digesting food is a highly demanding metabolic process.
What Does Intermittent Fasting Have To Do With Me?
Intermittent Fasting can be one of the most cost-effective and impactful ways to quickly dampen inflammation within the body. Research continues to show how powerful short-term Fasting can be in increasing longevity and reducing disease. It’s also a very effective way to heal our gut, which is ground zero for our immune system, as 70% of our immune system is located within our digestive tract, known as the Gut-Associated-Lymphoid-Tissue (GALT). This is an essential fact to consider because it’s been well documented that gut and brain barriers become compromised after trauma, leading to altered immune responses, rampant inflammation, and brain function changes.
Your gut is the first line of defense for fighting off viruses, bacteria, fungi, and any other type of pathogen you make contact with. And the scary part about that is the fact that your gut lining is only one cell thick. Yes, you read that correctly.
Most of the gut lining protection comes from the mucosal layer, which houses your gut bacteria and is surrounded by 100 million neurons that comprise the enteric nervous system. When your mucosal lining becomes damaged by poor nutrition, excessive sugar intake, sedentary lifestyle, altered sleep patterns, and chronic inflammation, the lining becomes weak and unable to protect the gut and body from pathogens.
Intermittent Fasting holds value by allowing the gut lining to repair itself, which creates optimal environments for the gut mucosa to increase in volume, allowing gut bacteria to do their job in competing for coveted resources and balancing out the diversity of the gut microbiome.
This process secondarily dampens inflammation in the gut and brain, freeing up resources and energy reserves for optimizing cellular reparative processes in the central nervous system.
How Long Should I Fast For?
The real question is, how long are you capable of fasting for? Everyone’s different.
Fasting can be different and challenging for some people, so there is no “one size fits all” type of answer to this question. For some, fasting for 16 hours may be enough to see changes in their brain function and overall symptoms. For others, it may take weeks and even months of fasting for prolonged periods before they start to notice changes in their digestive and metabolic capacity with Intermittent Fasting.
And while the jury is still out, there are a few simple guidelines to follow if you’re interested in starting your Intermittent Fasting cycle.
Start Off Short And Slow
A simple 12-hour fast is the minimum window for fasting. According to the literature, this is the time interval needed to deplete liver glycogen stores and reach the initial stages of ketosis and mobilize fatty acids for energy production.
We usually suggest starting at a 16-hour fast around 8 PM, which will take you to noon the following day. At this point, 7-9 hours of your fast will be occurring while you sleep, which can alleviate any of the hunger pangs you experience during your fast.
Listen To Your Body
Although Fasting is simple, it’s not always easy. Some patients can acquire postprandial reactive hypoglycemia, a condition that causes changes in their blood sugar levels to quickly drop off, causing lethargy, fatigue, emotional instability, dizziness, and an array of other symptoms that can make them feel sluggish. If you’re one of these people, monitor your bodily functions and make sure you have food on hand to elevate your blood sugar levels if you start to feel off-kilter.
To a certain degree, this happens to most who go through a fasting cycle, but it shouldn’t be detrimental to your quality of life. Over time, these symptoms become easier to handle and gradually become less frequent with continued fasting attempts.
Practice Makes Perfect
Over time, you will become resilient in your quest towards Intermittent Fasting, which will allow you to fast for longer and longer periods. We’ve had patients who started out at the 12-hour mark dealing with emotional instability, hangry emotionality, simple frustrations, fatigue, and brain fog. After repeated attempts and simple modifications, they were able to make their way to the 22-24 hour mark with little to no symptoms at all. In fact, when they made their way to this milestone, they usually feel a notable improvement in their energy levels, brain function, and mentality because they’re in full ketosis and utilizing fat as fuel for their brain.
Don’t rush this process. It takes time for your brain and body to adapt to these new stressors, so feel free to push yourself at your own pace. It’s not a sprint; It’s a marathon.
What Can I Consume While Fasting?
Although this is one of the most debated conversations in the fasting communities, here are some simple guidelines to follow.
First, there is absolutely no food, sugar, protein, or carbohydrate consumption allowed while fasting. All of these food choices will spike your blood sugar, create an insulin response, and take you out of your fasting state. This is the cycle we are trying to disrupt, which means there is no room for error on this principle.
Second, some fats are allowed (in moderation). Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are specific fats that can further facilitate your metabolic capacity to move into ketosis without spiking your blood sugar or creating an insulin response. MCT’s are very beneficial fats because they can trigger your brain into thinking you just ate food, which can significantly reduce the feelings of hunger and emotional instability that set in after a period of Fasting. You can also use grass-fed butter or ghee to accomplish this task as well.
Third, be careful with your choice of liquids. Water, herbal tea, and coffee are all acceptable choices for consumption while fasting, but be wary of “sugar-free” drinks, as most of them contain sugars that will spike blood sugar levels and create an insulin response. The only added sugar we allow is Stevia because of its naturally derived processing and lack of spiking blood sugar levels.
Time To Fast
Now that you’re educated, it’s time to get serious about Fasting. Don’t EVER start a new dietary or food modification plan without consulting a physician or medical practitioner. All of these interventions should be done underneath medical supervision for obvious reasons.
As you make your way through your fasting cycles, take note of how you feel. Listen to your body. And above all else, make sure you are seeing progress in your symptoms and quality of life.
Fasting should be enjoyable and something to look forward to because of how it makes you feel. It’s also a big step in creating a powerful habit, which can be a building block for creating future habits and empowering you to own your own health.
Health is an outcome of the daily decisions you make, so take it personally and own it.