A kitchen at nighttime with a closed sign on the refrigerator

Trying Intermittent Fasting With IBD

Fasting has been used for healing for thousands of years. The scientific practice can be traced back at least to the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates who in the 5th Century BCE, "recommended abstinence from food or drink for patients who exhibited certain symptoms of illness."1

Not much has changed since antiquity. In fact, today when I have a Crohn's flare my gastroenterologist often recommends a liquid diet, or even a complete fast, since these provide bowel rest.

Intermittent fasting's popularity

One particular type of fasting, intermittent fasting, which is basically fasting during a section of each day, has become a fad. This is not without cause. After all, intermittent fasting seems to have a number of health benefits.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine discussed the practice in this way: "Evidence is accumulating that eating in a 6-hour period and fasting for 18 hours can trigger a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy, with increased stress resistance, increased longevity, and a decreased incidence of diseases, including cancer and obesity."2

Is fasting good for Crohn's disease and UC?

Intermittent fasting may have benefits for IBD patients as well, improving gastrointestinal wellness. A review of the scientific literature, the "Annual Review of Nutrition" had this to say: "Fasting regimens appear to have positive impacts on the gut microbiota."3

As we all know, a healthy and diverse gut microbiome is essential for gastrointestinal health, making this no small matter. The same review goes on to point out: "An extended fasting period (i.e., gut rest) could also lead to reduced gut permeability and, as a result, to blunted postprandial endotoxemia (50, 61, 64, 73) and blunted systemic inflammation (94, 102)..."3

Obviously, reducing "gut permeability," "systemic inflammation," and curbing "endotoxemia" are desired outcomes in Crohn's and colitis patients. Throw in the fact that intermittent fasting is believed to improve cardiovascular health, and this practice seems worth considering.

How do you do intermittent fasting?

So what does intermittent fasting involve? Ideally, you fast for 18 hours each day and eat only in a 6-hour window. For many, though, who are quite busy and active, this might not feel manageable. Hence why many people initiate modified intermittent fasting for 12-14 hours.

Let me break it down in practical terms. Let's say you normally eat dinner at 9, then snack at midnight, then have breakfast at 7:00 a.m., a routine that gives your digestive system 7 hours of rest. By eliminating the midnight snack and having your dinner at 7, you've provided yourself a 12-hour intermittent fast. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Over time I've widened my window and sometimes now go 14 or even 16 hours without eating.

Getting proper nutrients with Crohn's or colitis

It's important to avoid becoming malnourished. If that's your situation, intermittent fasting is probably not right for you. Others may need extra nutrients to facilitate healing, and as such, again, may not be good candidates. Presuming you are in stable condition, though, giving your body down time to heal may be quite helpful. As always, it's something you can discuss with your doctor first.

Have you tried intermittent fasting? If not, would you consider it? Why or why not? Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments below.

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