Avoiding eating altogether is often associated with religious discipline. However in recent years fasting has been gaining popularity for those seeking its health benefits. The theory goes that our ancestors regularly went through periods of feast and famine, and this resulted in our biological make-up being well adapted to going without food for extended periods. Going further, it activates survival mechanisms that step your body out of cruise control and into a higher gear.
Medical science seems to agree, with countless studies showing that fasting can have numerous major health benefits. But the question is, do these benefits carry over to the brain? The answer appears to be yes, and potentially with rapid and long term effects. Here we will see some of the ways science shows that taking a break from eating could boost the condition of your grey matter.
A modern discovery in neuroscience, neurogenesis allows your brain to grow neurons even into old age. Increased neurogenesis has been shown to be linked to better brain functions. In contrast, reduced growth of new neurons could be a factor in many neurological diseases associated with aging.
Fasting has been found to stimulate the growth of new neurons. The great news here is that brain cells can last up to an entire lifetime!
As we covered in a previous blog, neuroplasticity is your brain’s remarkable ability to physically adapt to challenges and become more efficient at what it does. A big part of this involves growing and rewiring neural connections between brain cells. And there are a lot of them – around 100 trillion! The greater neuroplasticity you have, the more capable you are at learning.
Fasting boosts production of an important protein called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) by up to 400%. BDNF has been hailed as “Miracle Grow For Your Brain”, allowing the brain to continue to change and adapt. This makes your grey matter more resilient and adaptable, in turn boosting memory, mood, and learning.
Research shows that intermittent fasting has been shown to damp down the fires of inflammation. Typically this involves eating 25% of your normal daily calories, twice per week. Why is this good for the brain? Well excessive inflammation is well known to be the cause of many diseases that chronically impair brain health, such as Alzheimers and dementia.
One way fasting helps is through assisting with autophagy, cleaning old or damaged cells more efficiently, reducing their inflammatory effects. Another is producing Ketones, which are created when fats stores start being burned for fuel instead of sugar. Ketones in turn block part of the immune system that increases the risk of inflammatory disorders. Finally, fasting improves insulin sensitivity, preventing glucose build up in the blood and its associated inflammation.
Somewhat surprisingly, intermittent fasting has been demonstrated to aid mitochondrial biogenesis - creation of the biological machinery responsible for creating energy in each and every one of the cells in your body. Like the batteries for your cells, they convert the food you eat, quite literally, into power.
This is important for your brain because it burns fuel like there is no tomorrow, consuming up to 25% of all your bodies calories.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) has powerful anti-aging and longevity benefits when produced naturally in your body. More specifically, HGH can improve cognition and improve neuroprotection, helping preserve brain health.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to naturally increase HGH levels to provide anti-aging and longevity benefits for brain health.
So while keeping trim and looking after your body might be great goals for trying out fasting, the benefits between your ears might just surprise you!
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