Fasting has been going on since the days of our earliest ancestors. Often they would have to fast when there was a no food available due to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle or due to famine. Today, intermittent fasting has become popular as research demonstrates that periods of fasting between meals has many benefits for your health. Intermittent fasting is a relatively new approach to weight loss to help you burn fat, and it is also good for your brain.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting involves periods of voluntary abstinence from food and a scheduled program of eating and fasting. For example, one might fast for 16 hours, leaving eight hours to get in the day’s calories. Dozens of books promote various fasting dietary patterns and the web offers hundreds of fasting-related sites. There is evidence-based research showing intermittent fasting as a tool for improving human health.(4)
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Improves brain function, learning and memory
Helps the brain create new neurons
Protects against brain damage
Reduces body fat
Fights off disease
Supports hormone regulation
Slows the aging process
Promotes insulin sensitivity
Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes
Fights free radical damage
Assists in calorie restriction
Helps you lose weight and body fat
Strengthens the immune system
Can increase life span
Intermittent Fasting and Your Brain
It’s becoming clear that the advantages of intermittent fasting are even further reaching, with enormous implications for brain health. Research studies have shown that intermittent fasting increases synaptic plasticity (a biological marker of learning and memory), enhances performance on memory tests in the elderly, leads to the growth of new neurons, promotes recovery after stroke or traumatic brain injury, decreases risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and may improve quality of life and cognitive function for those already diagnosed with these diseases. Intermittent fasting has also been shown to play a preventative and therapeutic role in mood disorders like anxiety and depression.(2)
Research shows that intermittent fasting improves learning and memory. It demonstrates that intermittent fasting reduces oxidative stress in the brain and improves brain function and structures. (3)
The vulnerability of the nervous system to advancing age is all too often manifest in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Evidence suggests that caloric restriction and intermittent fasting can prolong the health-span of the nervous system by impinging upon fundamental metabolic and cellular signaling pathways that regulate life-span. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting help protect neurons against genetic and environmental factors to which they would otherwise succumb during aging.(1)
How Do You Do An Intermittent Fast?
There are several different ways to incorporate intermittent fasting into your routine. In one method, you severely restrict calories (think 400-500 total intake per day) two to three days a week. In another, you confine your food intake to an 8-hour period every day; and in yet another you fast once a week for a 24 to 36 hour period.(2) A popular intermittent fasting plan right now is the 5:2 fast. On 5 days of the week you eat as you normally would, while on the other 2 days you restrict calories to 500-600 per day. You need to keep your lifestyle and daily routine in mind when choosing the best method for you.
Fasting isn’t for everyone, however. If you have a health condition of any type, then please check with your doctor first. It is not recommended for children, teenagers, or pregnant or breast feeding women. It’s best not to try this if you are recovering from surgery, sick with a fever, or on certain medications. It is also possible that you can experience some side effects of intermittent fasting such as headaches, fatigue, dizziness and moodiness.
While intermittent fasting is one way to protect your brain, remember that eating a healthy diet and keeping your hormones in balance are key. Take our symptom checker quiz today to find out if you could have hormone imbalance.
1. Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting: Two Potential Diets for Successful Brain Aging
2. Intermittent Fasting: Try This at Home for Brain Health
3. Chronic Intermittent Fasting Improves Cognitive Functions and Brain Structures in Mice
4. Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health