September is a month of fresh starts. The seasons are gradually changing. Hot summer-like days are now growing shorter, peppered with cooler nights and yellowing leaves. Summer holidays have come and gone, and it’s back to work or back to school.
But for me, this month marks an even bigger transition. I am ringing in a whole new decade as I turn 60! I can’t know exactly what’s in store for me as I step into the future, but one thing is for sure: I’ll be celebrating my 60th year by recommitting to my health. This means maximizing my health span (the years I live without disease as I get older) by getting better sleep, exercising, maintaining my work-life balance, and, of course, eating well.
I’ll be paying particularly close attention to my gut health from now on. We all have trillions of bacteria living in our guts, and these play an essential role to our wellbeing. I learned a lot more about them this summer thanks to the book The Gut-Immune Connection by Emeran Mayer, MD. This fascinating and important read helped me get back to my ideal weight after a year and a half of COVID-19 stress. At the beginning of the summer, I was at my heaviest in a long time. Mayer’s book inspired me to incorporate more gut-friendly foods into my diet, as well as to try intermittent fasting. It worked! Both my husband and I lost our excess pandemic weight through this approach, with slight adjustments made according to our personal preferences. We feel amazing!
I highly recommend The Gut-Immune Connection to anyone looking to get healthier. (Even if you don’t need to lose weight - this is important info for everyone to know!) In the meantime, here are a few things I learned that were especially eye-opening for me:
- According Mayer, our gut microbiome has three main functions: to produce hormones that regulate food intake, to protect against pathogens, and to secrete/absorb fluids. So if you don’t have a healthy gut microbiome, a common result is never feeling full and eating more than your body needs. The risk here is not only weight gain but also type 2 diabetes.
Our guts have a protective barrier, but improper diet over a long period of time can slowly destroy it. This means tiny bits of our gut contents can actually escape through the barrier, a condition now referred to as "Leaky Gut". Once you have Leaky Gut, it's likely you'll experience chronic immune system activation. The contractions that move food through your digestive tract can also stop functioning properly, leading to stomach pain, irregularity, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Yikes!
The best way to keep your gut microbiome healthy is to eat a wide variety of probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and other fermented, raw foods. However, these will do no good if you don’t also eat a wide variety of prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are basically a type of fiber that feeds the microbes in your gut. They need to eat too! As Mayer puts it, “A diet rich in polyphenols, plant-based fiber, phytonutrients, and complex anti-inflammatory molecules … is the best diet for our microbes…and our own best health.”
It's not only what you eat but when you eat it. Mayer reports that fasting has incredible benefits, including: improved glucose utilization, strengthening the body's defense against oxidative stress, improved cell and organ function, more efficient repair or removal of damaged molecules, and restoring the signaling pathways in the body that, with deterioration, cause metabolic diseases and aging. I couldn't believe fasting is capable of so much!
Fasting continues to have these incredible effects even after you start eating again. Mayer says, “It is believed that the highly orchestrated systemic and cellular responses activated during fasting can carry over even after a person begins eating again, continuing to bolster mental and physical performance and increase disease resistance.”
I could go on and on! But you're better off getting it straight from the source. What I will tell you, is that my results have been fantastic - after some trial and error.
Using the research and advice in The Gut-Immune Connection, I tried fasting 16 hours a day and eating between 11am and 7 pm. This approach worked great for my husband, but it seemed to have little or no effect for me. So I tried eating 5 days a week and fasting on just Tuesdays and Thursdays instead. That hit the spot. I quickly lost the extra weight I gained during COVID, slept better, and had more energy during the day. I even noticed an increase in mobility and flexibility, something I wasn't expecting!
It goes to show, no solution is one-size-fits-all. Give yourself permission to try things and adjust as necessary. Your body is worth the effort!! Moving forward, I will definitely maintain this rhythm of eating. I'll also continue to incorporate more plant-based foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics into my diet. The results speak for themselves. Healthy, happy 60s here I come!