Fasting creates an energy restriction, and it also puts mild stress on our brain. As a result of that, it could slow down abnormal degeneration of neurons, common diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s according to one research out of the National Institute on Aging.
– Fasting benefits the brain by creating ketones.
Mark Mattson is currently the Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. Mark is also a professor of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University. He has been studying the effects that intermittent fasting has on the brain, both in animals and in humans too. His research has also discovered that when an animal is fasting, the nerve cell circuits of that animal are more active. As a result of that, they perform better in learning and memory tests.
In his TEDx Talk, Mark stated:
“There is evidence not just from animals but also from humans that fasting is good for the body. It is going to reduce inflammation. It is going to reduce oxidative stress in organ systems throughout the body. And one thing that occurs when you fast which is not the case when you are eating three meals a day is that your energy metabolism also shifts so that you can start burning fat.”
There is also a reason why Mattson felt it was necessary to highlight that fasting results in us are burning fat. When we are eating, we store our energy in the form of glycogen in the liver. When we deplete our glycogen storage, we also start burning fat. Finally, once we are metabolizing fat, we also facilitate the formation of substances which are called ketone bodies.
These ketone bodies are very good for our brain. Mattson stated that they also provide an alternative energy source which boosts the energy levels of neurons. Ketogenic diets are used for treating patients with epilepsy, as ketones have shown to suppress seizures. That is how good they are for our brain.
– Fasting also challenges the brain, just like intense exercise.
Typically, it is not easy to shift our energy metabolism from glycogen to fat. It takes about 10 to 12 hours before we use up what is stored in the liver. But, when you fast, you increase the production of ketone bodies. Other ways of achieving this are through prolonged periods of intense exercise and during periods of restrictive carbohydrate diet.
As we are aging, our brains have a higher chance of developing diseases. Mattson has also discovered that when we challenge the brain, it will protect itself from degeneration. He also states in the talk:
“Fasting is a challenge to our brain. And your brain responds to that challenge of not having food by activating some adaptive stress response pathways which will help your brain to cope with stress and resist disease.”
When we are fasting, we put our brain in a challenging situation. As a response, the brain will activate stress response pathways.
One way in which our brain can respond is by increasing the production of neurotrophic factors and formation and strength of synapses.
Secondly, mild energetic stress which we create through fasting also results in the creation of new mitochondria in neurons. This will also help the neurons to produce more energy. As well, more mitochondria increase the ability of neurons to form and maintain synapses.
Finally, Mattson has also found that intermittent fasting improves nerve cells’ ability to repair DNA.
Consequently, fasting can also result in neurochemical changes in the brain which are similar to those of during prolonged periods of intense exercise. As well, the brain responds comparably to cognitive challenges. In the video below, you can watch Mattson’s full TEDx talk.
– Fasting modalities.
Fasting means that you are eating little to no food for prolonged time periods. It has been trained for years and centuries, and it has a role in many traditions, as well as religions. Even the famous Plato is often quoted on the topic:
“I fast for greater physical, as well as mental efficiency.”
The usual understanding of the term fast is that you are going to eliminate all food and only drink water. This is normally called water fast. People often water fast for one day during a week. Some more committed practitioners are going to water fast for up to two weeks, continuously.
It is a lesser-known, but perhaps more attainable method is intermittent fasting. It also means that every day there is some intake of food, even though on some days you limit your calorie intake to less than 600 calories.
Intermittent fasting can be done on an alternating day basis. One day you can eat normally, and the next day you will only ear 600 or fewer calories.
There is also another form of intermittent fasting that follows the rule 5:2. You normally eat for about five days and then for two days you limit your intake. This is the method that is used by Mattson in his research studies.
Finally, there are some people that like to practice intermittent daily fasting. They just eat during a 4-8 hour period every day. During the remainder of every day, they just drink water and eat nothing else.