Fasting For Brain Health

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There’s evidence that taking breaks from food – in the form of either fasting or caloric restriction – may help protect the brain against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other conditions. Both short and extended fasts have been shown to promote neurogenesis, and to clean mis-folded proteins from the body and brain.

According to an article in New Scientist,

“Could fasting boost your brainpower? A stomach hormone that stimulates appetite seems to promote the growth of new brain cells and protect them from the effects of ageing – and may explain why some people say that fasting makes them feel mentally sharper.

“… There is also evidence that ghrelin can enhance cognition. Animals that have reduced-calorie diets have better mental abilities, and ghrelin might be part of the reason why. Injecting the hormone into mice improves their performance in learning and memory tests, and seems to boost the number of neuron connections in their brains.

As a side note, fasting has been shown to dramatically increase the life span in both animals and insects, in laboratory studies…”

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine:

“Johns Hopkins neurology professor Ted Dawson’s cholesterol was creeping into dangerous territory when his doctor recommended statins. Dawson decided to try intermittent fasting first, a restrictive eating schedule that mimics the feast-then-famine life of prehistoric hunters.

“Sure enough, it lowered my cholesterol,” Dawson says. “I never needed a statin.”

That was about 10 years ago. Dawson, now 60, still follows the regimen, consuming just 500 calories a day, twice a week. “To be honest, it’s still a pain,” he says. But his cholesterol levels keep improving, and his energy levels are high, he says.

On his low-calorie days, Dawson eats a little oatmeal or yogurt in the morning, a handful of nuts and fruit mid-day, and a veggie burger with no bun for dinner.

On the remaining days, he eats whatever he wants — in generous quantities. “My caloric intake is probably what it was when I was 25 or 30,” says Dawson, who now has to work to keep his weight up. “For health reasons, I try to stick to a Mediterranean diet, but I like ice cream and other desserts, so I’ll eat those too. I have red meat once in a while.”

A growing body of research, much of it led by Mark Mattson, adjunct professor of neuroscience, indicates the regimen offers a host of benefits, such as helping adherents shed pounds, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, slow the progression of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and reduce cancer risk.

In December, Mattson and Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute on Aging put much of that information in one place, publishing a widely publicized research review in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The catalyst for intermittent fasting’s health benefits, they say, is metabolic switching, which occurs when cells transition from using glucose for energy to using ketone bodies, and then back again.”

Personal Note

  • I started fasting a couple of years ago because I was experiencing some health issues (I was feeling sick and low energy, with no obvious cause).
  • My health, and feelings, improved radically once I started fasting.
  • Some people may find it hard to start fasting, if they normally eat a diet high in carbs. I find it easy for the most part because I usually eat a ketogenic diet. (People on ketogenic diets are using ketones, not glucose, as a fuel, so don’t experience sugar cravings.)
  • I’ve tried different fasting regimens, from IF (intermittent fasting) to ADF (Alternate Day Fasting) to doing occasional 3 to 5 day water fasts or Fasting Mimicking Diets. All have been beneficial. The alternate day fasting regimen was the easiest one for me to follow.
  • If you’re new to fasting, or have health issues that might make it a bad idea, I recommend reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book, “The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting” or watching some of Dr. Fung’s videos before trying it.

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Image credit: Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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