When people think of a healthy lifestyle, they don’t often think of fasting. People definitely don’t think about fasting when it comes to brain health. Instead, everyone can agree that a healthy diet and a nutritious meal is better for overall health. But maybe it’s time we reconsider how we approach the idea of brain health. Research is showing us that intermittent fasting benefits may include benefits for our brains and the results can’t be ignored.
Studies have shown that fasting may, in fact, boost cognitive function. Groups who fasted took cognitive tests against groups that haven’t fasted. There was no decline in cognitive abilities. The results were similar to that of exercise. Fasting benefits have been known to increase the number of mitochondria in neurons. Another benefit from fasting is the ability to maintain and form new connections between neurons. Those new connections improve our ability to learn and remember things. This is where exercise and fasting have something in common. Exercise also improves cognitive function in the same ways as fasting. Intermittent fasting has become popular among fitness enthusiasts for a reason.
New research has also shown us that intermittent fasting can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Fasting causes synaptic activity in the brain to slow down and the brain is able to save energy. Autophagy is also increased which allows your brain to recycle damaged cells and create new ones. But the biggest of the fasting benefits is that it protects the brain from accumulating amyloid plaques which is prevalent in patients with Alzheimer’s. Fasting as little as twice per week has been shown to produce these benefits and could help prevent degenerative diseases.
Studies done on calorie restriction have long shown an increased lifespan, this may be due to an increased ability to fight disease. Fasting is an ideal way to restrict calorie intake and it’s one of the many reasons people who try to lose weight turn to intermittent fasting. Fasting kills off damaged immune cells, replaces them with new, stronger cells, has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects. Many can benefit from these benefits like children with epilepsy and people with anxiety or depression.
Insulin and HGH have opposite reactions in your body. When you eat, insulin is released and HGH is lowered. On the other hand, when you fast, HGH is raised and insulin is minimized. Also, when insulin levels are elevated, neuronal autophagy is reduced and since fasting reduces insulin, for hours at a time, autophagy can occur.
While insulin is lowered, HGH is raised. Researchers at the International Medical Center Heart Institute found that men who fasted for 24 hours had a 2000% increase in circulating HGH. Women also had a 1300% increase and HGH is another hormone that improves brain function.
Ketones are also produced when fasting and protect against major degeneration in the cells to the point of disease.
Humans have evolved to accept fasting and this may be why brains benefit from fasting. For thousands of years, humans didn’t have an endless supply of food like we do today. Hunting was a part of everyday life and if hunting didn’t go well, humans would starve. Over time, we evolved to accept situations like this because if our brains didn’t work properly because we’re hungry, we would never eat. On the other hand, we’ve all experienced a food coma. A food coma is when we overeat and brain activity actually lowers. Hunger leads to ambition and focuses as we need to find a way to survive and fasting can help improve brain function to accomplish that goal.
Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry isn’t studying fasting benefits because there isn’t a pill for that. Dr. Marcia Angell, the former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, said the “pharmaceutical industry likes to depict itself as a research-based industry, as the source of innovative drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
We all must realize that the pharmaceutical industry is a for-profit industry that does what it can to make money. That goal of making money may not always coincide with the benefits of actual patients. This is why you won’t find pharmaceutical companies researching or supporting the fasting trend. They would lose millions of dollars if they did.
Mark Mattson, a professor of neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging is the leading voice for fasting benefits and its effects on brain health. Mattson recommends one of two ways of intermittent fasting.
As always, start slow and ease into the process. Try one day of fasting each week until you can build up a tolerance for the fast. If you dive right in, you may experience some side effects like irritability, headaches, and lightheadedness.