Although intermittent fasting (IF) is commonly practiced in the Paleo community, please be aware that it is not right for everyone. This is especially true for the individual with Candida or SIBO and the associated conditions of adrenal fatigue, impaired blood sugar regulation, sympathetic nervous system dominance, and sugar and carb addiction, or anyone in the process of trying to balance GABA and glutamate or other neurotransmitter levels associated with anxiety, depression, addiction, insomnia, compulsive overeating or other eating disorders, or other mental health or cognitive disorders. Under these conditions IF can be highly counterproductive.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
With intermittent fasting, the individual intentionally incorporates periods of time into their eating schedule in which they skip a meal or two. At least 16 hours of fasting is needed to achieve any benefits and going beyond 24 hours does not increase the potential for benefits. So fasting typically takes place for 16 to 24 hours. The most common method used is to simply skip breakfast, extending the overnight absence of food until lunchtime. Some people do it several times a week, while others do it weekly or even monthly.
In a healthy person, the benefits of IF are believed to include a decrease in body fat, better health and longevity, greater insulin sensitivity, lowering of blood lipids and triglycerides, an increase in energy, better brain function, cancer-fighting characteristics, and others.
While it is true that intermittent fasting was a natural part of our Paleolithic ancestor’s life, our ancestors weren’t living with microbial overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, disrupted brain chemistry, impairment of the endocrine system, and damaged metabolism, as much of society is today.
The adrenal glands must be strong to handle the hormonal and metabolic changes that take place during intermittent fasting and the brain must not be depleted in neurotransmitters. Otherwise, IF can magnify the aforementioned issues and precipitate even more deterioration in health.
Intermittent Fasting is Stressful
First and most importantly, fasting is a stressor on the body, so for someone who is already dealing with chronic stress (excess sympathetic nervous system activity or sympathetic dominance) and/or adrenal fatigue, as is the case with most people who have Candida and SIBO or an imbalance in GABA and glutamate, this is going to lead to more degradation in health and exacerbation in symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, exhaustion, cravings for sugar and carbs, and more.
When we go for long periods of time without eating, the stress response system is activated. This means there will be an elevation in cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. All of which will be detrimental to all the aforementioned conditions and a huge burden on the adrenals.
Additionally, when we are under stress we have a high need for neurotransmitters like GABA, endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine because they are used to help regulate the stress. If one is already depleted in one or more of these, the stress is going to create a demand exceeds the supply situation, so neurotransmitter levels are going to become even lower and one is going to have a greater inability to deal with the stress.
Neurotransmitters Need a Steady Supply of Nutrients
Neurotransmitters are formed from the nutrients in our food. When we are trying to restore balance to brain chemistry and replenish neurotransmitter levels, as is the case with conditions like adrenal fatigue, anxiety disorders, insomnia, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, ADHD, compulsive overeating, and sugar and carb addiction, then meals need to be eaten consistently throughout the day to provide the nutrients needed for proper production and function. Going without meals will result in lower levels and consequently a worsening of symptoms.
Furthermore, when blood sugar levels drop in response to skipping a meal, so do neurotransmitter levels. Our goal in repairing brain chemistry is to create stability throughout the day in neurotransmitter levels, which cannot be achieved if blood sugar is going up and down.
Fasting increases catechols, which can slow down catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), so this can be problematic for the individual who has a COMT gene mutation already impeding their problem in breaking down catecholamines.
Blood Sugar Dysregulation
Now, you most likely have read by many Paleo bloggers out there, that if you are eating Paleo and already a fat burner, then intermittent fasting will not have any negative effects. That is not true. I have been a faithful Paleo devotee eating low-carb for more than a decade and eating keto for more than four years, and if I go for more than five hours without eating, I still experience all the negative effects of low blood sugar like a migraine, shaking, trembling, anxiety, intense nausea, impaired cognitive functioning, dizziness, weakness, and feeling like I’ll pass out. This is true for many people because there are other factors that can affect how you will respond.
When we go without eating, glucose levels will begin to drop. This prompts the hormones called glucagon and epinephrine to stimulate the release of glycogen (glucose stored in our liver and muscles). Epinephrine works primarily on muscle, while glucagon works primarily on the liver. People who have true hypoglycemia have lost their ability to produce glucagon so they do not have adequate levels for this process. If adequate levels of glucagon are not present, low blood sugar will be experienced during fasting.
This is a critical issue for the individual who is working on balancing GABA and glutamate. High levels of glutamate incite the release of insulin, which lowers blood sugar. So the individual with high glutamate is already dealing with the challenge of keeping blood sugar stable. On the flip side, glucose is required to modulate glutamate at the synapse, so when it is low, it leads an even bigger increase in glutamate, thus forming a vicious circle. Low blood sugar will provoke higher levels of glutamate, while at the same time inhibiting your ability to reduce the build-up. Keeping blood sugar stable at all times is essential for maintaining the balance between GABA and glutamate, and that cannot be achieved if one is engaged with intermittent fasting.
People can have problems regulating their blood sugar for a variety of other reasons, such as Candida and SIBO interfering in the process, thyroid problems, and adrenal fatigue. Regardless of the reason, anyone with blood sugar regulation issues is likely to have negative effects with IF and the drop in blood sugar is very hard on the adrenal glands.
All the issues we have discussed on this page, including the stress factor, the blood sugar dysregulation, and the impact on neurotransmitters can lead to a rebound effect, whereby the individual will develop ravenous hunger and/or cravings after fasting and then engage in a bout of binge eating on sugar, carbs, or fat.
Although intermittent fasting may provide some benefits for a healthy individual, it is best avoided if you have an imbalance in GABA and glutamate, Candida, SIBO, adrenal fatigue, problems regulating blood sugar, sugar and carb addiction, compulsive overeating, an anxiety disorder, depression, excess sympathetic nervous system activity (sympathetic dominance), and insomnia, or if you are in early recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
However, you can determine if it is right for you with simple experimentation. If you have a negative experience with IF, then don’t do it. Be cautious if you have any of the aforementioned conditions.