Did you ever wake up with a clutter-free clear mind?
Does the morning help you quickly churn out new ideas?
Your empty stomach might be the reason!
Periodic fasting has always been a part of our abides, be it for the sake of a better lifestyle or religious beliefs. Due to conditions of food scarcity in our past, natural selection favored our ancestors who could better cope with the situation and showed a zeal to win it over even under a long period of fasting.
They didn’t lose their cognitive quality or physiological strength — the 2 essential factors helped sustain a prehistoric man’s survival. Even after perceiving its evolutionary significance, most of us are still on the fence and cling to the 3-or-more-meals-a-day regimen.
Not only us, don’t forget that the rest of the animal kingdom is also anchored to fasting for various motives. When you are looking for food, your brain gets far more attentive, to give the organism a fighting chance for survival.
Scientists are not leaving any stones unturned to expose the benefits of fasting. Starting from contained obesity, reduced blood sugar, to a healthier brain are just a few checks on the benefit’s list, which ultimately might answer queries on healthy aging.
Are you with me to know more? Today, let’s dive into our brains and discover the 9 most important ways your brain could be aided by fasting.
1. Fasting helps in memory & learning
Along with age upward, our cognitive makeup dwindles. But some studies illustrate fasting, aka dietary restriction (DR) could reduce such dents in memory. Compared to young adult rats, aged rats encounter less memory impairment upon long-term DR, even after traumatic brain injury. The aged rats performed significantly better in the Morris water maze task — a yardstick to gauge learning & memory.
Not only rodents but humans also benefit.
By engaging caloric restrictions (CR), Witte & colleagues showed that 3 months long 30% CR plan can improve verbal memory in elderly patients. The study suggested, increased insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammatory activity could provide a protective environment to the brain.
2. Fasting surges BDNF – a neural redeemer
Intermittent fasting (IF) brings out myriads of changes in the biochemical-orchestration in our body. One such change dictates our brain to upshoot the production of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) — a protein starring in neurological enhancements.
BDNF promotes the protection of existing neurons and the generation of new ones and makes them sturdy enough to stand neurodegenerative ailments. Many studies unearthed BDNF’s involvement behind ideal brain health. BDNF improves the neural plasticity — a quality to spring back from damage and trauma.
With age, BDNF level drops but don’t worry! You can boost BDNF production organically in many ways, e.g., by practicing intermittent fasting and dietary restriction.
3. Fasting can hold back Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s
A recent review article published in the New England Journal of medicine reads, “There is strong preclinical evidence that alternate-day fasting can delay the onset and progression of the disease processes in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.”
A 6-hour regimen of consumption and 18 hours of fasting can lead to a metabolic switch from glucose-based to fatty acids and ketone-based energy. In Alzheimer’s disease, the brain fails to utilize glucose as the energy source, which affects the brain. Instead, the brain could metabolize ketone as an alternative energy source. Fasting gives us that opportunity to exploit ketone-based energy.
Although clinical evidence in humans is still elusive, these investigations spark a ray of hope.
4. Huntington’s disease: Fasting can ameliorate!
Huntington’s disease patients suffer from progressive neurodegeneration that results in cognitive, psychiatric, and motor dysfunction. A 2018 study on mice reveals time-restricted feeding (6 h feeding/18 h fasting) could improve the locomotor activity and sleep cycle.
In another study, Ehrnhoefer and colleagues exploited the phenomenon called autophagy — cell’s garbage cleaning process. Upon intermittent fasting, in mice, the researchers could augment autophagy and reduce the disease-causing faulty protein (mHTT) in the animals’ brains.
5. Fasting can reduce chances of stroke
Ischemic stroke befalls when an artery to the brain is choked, failing to nourish the neurons – leading to a cerebral collapse.
In animals, fasting before an ischemic stroke alleviates brain damage and enhances functional recovery. Besides, rats kept on time-restricted feeding for 3 months before and 70 days after cerebral ischemia displayed lasting recuperation in spatial memory.
6. Fasting checks epilepsy
In accordance with the Hippocrate’s observation, several studies showed the positive impact of fasting (and Ketogenic diet, which mimics a fasting effect) on epilepsy.
The findings obtained by Hartman and fellow researchers showed children suffering from persistent and drug-resistant seizures, under keto-diet, may be aided by supplementary healing from periodic fasting.
7. Fasting presents a better mood
Scientists have recorded that fasting has resulted in the mood improvement, bestows idiosyncratic impression of well-being, alertness, restored sleep, and sometimes grants a euphoric sensation.
An analysis involving aging men partaking in fasting and caloric restriction had significantly reduced tension, anger, confusion, mood disturbance, and improved vigour.
8. Fasting nourishes mental health
When the pandemic is still roaring strong in these unprecedented times, the uncertainty takes its toll on people’s mental health.
Is there any way out? Is fasting the saviour? Some studies nod, YES!
A 2018 randomized controlled trial showed diet with caloric restriction could assist in emotional well-being and lessen depression. In this study, the researchers assessed the effect of caloric restriction on multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. In early MS, when depression is rampant, the study showed even a short regimen of caloric restriction could uplift the emotional health.
Similarly, animal studies, especially in rodents, have also evidenced the practical effects of caloric and dietary restriction on longevity and models of psychiatric and neurodegenerative illnesses (e.g., Huntington’s & Parkinson’s diseases).
9. Fasting helps in weight loss: a happy brain
Weight loss is a verified outcome of fasting. Which leads to several positive changes in the body, and the brain gets its perks too!
Losing excess weight also diminishes stress on the blood vessels, which, as a result, fuels blood flow to the brain, and lifts the overall brain health.
We can go on with touching on many other benefits what fasting could assure for your brain.
The brain is a bizarre entity, and pinpointing selected measures for a healthy brain is not an easy task. With a conceivable potential, fasting is essential in mapping the path towards a healthy and blissful brain.
Written by Somsuvro Basu, PhD.
Edited by Pankaj Kapahi, PhD.
Disclaimer: The results mentioned in this article might not be experienced in every case. For some occurrences, more research and clinical trials are required to conclude an appropriate consequence.