4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain Function

4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain Function

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Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain

New research has indicated that fasting can significantly reduce the effects of aging on the brain. It has been known that bouts of intermittent fasting have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on the entire body. Leading scientists now believe that intermittent fasting is one of the key strategies for maximizing brain function.  In this article, you will discover 4 ways intermittent fasting improves brain function.

Researchers at the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore have reviewed the literature and performed studies to indicate the positive effects of fasting on overall brain health. Professor Mark Mattson, who the head of the Institute’s laboratory of NeuroSciences, made it clear that these benefits were not just related to calorie restriction but instead to intentional periods of intermittent fasting (1).

2 Major Phases: Building and Cleansing

Eating stimulates the body to go into building phase where we are anabolic in nature and store both nutrients and toxins. This phase is essential for building new cells and tissues and store nutrients for times of scarcity. This building phase of physiology is predominately led by the hormone insulin.

Fasting for more than 6 hours begins the cleansing phase. The cleansing phase is catabolic in nature in that it tears down old damaged cells. This process turns on brain autophagy, or “self-eating,” in where the cells recycle waste material, regulate waste products and repair themselves. These genetic repair mechanisms are turned on through the release of human growth hormone (HGH).

Intermittent fasting is one of the most powerful ways to reduce inflammation, boost immunity and enhancing tissue healing (2, 3, 4). This is one of the reasons why many people feel nauseated when they have infections. This innate mechanism is the body’s way of influencing us to fast so it can produce the right environment to boost natural immunity.

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Fasting Boosts Human Growth Hormone:

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is known to create physiological changes in metabolism to favor fat burning and protein sparing. The proteins and amino acids are utilized to improve brain and neuron processing. They also repair tissue collagen which improves the functionality and strength of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. HGH also improves skin function, reduces wrinkles & heals cuts and burns faster (5, 6, 78).

Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found that men, who had fasted for 24 hours, had a 2000% increase in circulating HGH. Women who were tested had a 1300% increase in HGH (9). The researchers found that the fasting individuals had significantly reduced their triglycerides, boosted their HDL cholesterol and stabilized their blood sugar.

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The Dance Between Insulin and HGH:

HGH and insulin are opposites in function. HGH is focused on tissue repair, efficient fuel usage and anti-inflammatory immune activity (10). Insulin is designed for energy storage, cellular division and pro-inflammatory immune activity (11).

Insulin is the dominant player in this game. When conditions demand an insulin release (carbohydrate intake), HGH is inhibited (12, 13). Additionally, too much protein or fat may not stimulate insulin but they will inhibit HGH release.

Studies have indicated that the disruption of neuronal autophagy results in accelerated neurodegenerative states throughout the brain (14).  Elevated circulating levels of insulin reduce the amount of neuronal autophagy and cause metabolic problems as well as accelerated degenerative states (15). Bouts of intermittent fasting are essential for the brain to clean itself up and drive new neurons and communication lines for optimal function (16).

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Fasting and Exercise:

The cleansing phase also acts like a slinky that is being spring-loaded for when the body moves into the building stage. It provides a sort of pre-load that allows the body to adapt in an incredible manner when it goes into the building phase. This enhances the neuronal connections and improves brain function.

Experts believe the intermittent fasting puts the brain cells under mild stress that is similar to the effects of exercise on muscle cells. The stress causes them to adapt and get more energy efficient (17). The body recovers from intense exercise through both the building and cleansing phases.

Brain-Derived NeuroTrophic Factor:

Brain-Derived NeuroTrophic Factor (BDNF) levels govern the formation of new neurons and the development of synapses and various lines of communication within the brain. Higher levels of BDNF lead to healthier neurons and better communication processes between these neurological cells (18).

Low levels of BDNF are linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss and other brain processing problems (19).  Intermittent fasting from 16 -18 hours has been shown to boost HGH levels by 50-100% and fasting up to 36 hours has been shown to boost BDNF levels by up 400% (1).

Research has shown that bouts of fasting have a great anti-inflammatory effect on the entire body (20, 2122). Sufferers from asthma have shown great results as have preliminary reports on individuals with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (23). Mattson and colleagues are preparing to study more details about the impact of fasting on the brain using MRI technology and other testing.

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Best Strategies For Fasting:

The best way to begin fasting is by giving your body 12 hours between dinner and breakfast every single day. This allows 4 hours to complete digestion and 8 hours for the liver to complete its detoxification cycle. After this is a standard part of lifestyle, try taking one day a week and extending the fast to 16-18 hours. Eventually, you may choose to do a full 24 hour fast each week.

During the Fasting Period it is great to drink cleansing beverages such as fermented drinks, herbal teas, water with infused superfood extracts, water with lemon or apple cider vinegar, etc. These enhance the cleansing process by providing anti-oxidants and micronutrients that enhance healing while not interacting with insulin or HGH levels.

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Precautionary Step Before Fasting:

Before one begins a lifestyle of intermittent fasting they should first remove as much sugar and grains from their diet as possible. This will create better blood sugar balance and help regulate insulin and the stress hormone cortisol. The diet should be built around good fats, anti-oxidants, clean protein and fiber. It can take three to seven days to stabilize blood sugar and stress hormones before intermittent fasting would be advised.

Once the body is properly trained, most people are able to easily do a 16-18 hour fast everyday. The easiest way to do this is by missing breakfast to extend the overnight fast. Have a light lunch or mid-afternoon snack and then a large dinner. For many, they feel so great doing this that they choose to never go back to eating any differently.

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Sources For This Article Include:

1. Martin B, Mattson MP, Maudsley S. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: two potential diets for successful brain aging. Ageing Res Rev. 2006 Aug;5(3):332-53. PMID: 16899414
2. Dirks-Naylor AJ, Kouzi SA, Yang S, Tran NT, Bero JD, Mabolo R, Phan DT, Whitt SD, Taylor HN. Can short-term fasting protect against doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity? World J Biol Chem. 2014 Aug 26;5(3):269-74. PMID: 25225594
3. Michalsen A, Li C. Fasting therapy for treating and preventing disease – current state of evidence. Forsch Komplementmed. 2013;20(6):444-53. PMID: 24434759
4. Michalsen A. Prolonged fasting as a method of mood enhancement in chronic pain syndromes: a review of clinical evidence and mechanisms. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2010 Apr;14(2):80-7. PMID: 20425196
5. Ho KY, Veldhuis JD, Johnson ML, Furlanetto R, Evans WS, Alberti KG, Thorner MO. Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. J Clin Invest. 1988 Apr;81(4):968-75. PMID: 3127426
6. Vendelbo MH, Jørgensen JO, Pedersen SB, Gormsen LC, Lund S, Schmitz O, Jessen N, Møller N. Exercise and fasting activate growth hormone-dependent myocellular signal transducer and activator of transcription-5b phosphorylation and insulin-like growth factor-I messenger ribonucleic acid expression in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Sep;95(9):E64-8. PMID: 20534752
7. Yamamoto M, Iguchi G, Fukuoka H, Suda K, Bando H, Takahashi M, Nishizawa H, Seino S, Takahashi Y. SIRT1 regulates adaptive response of the growth hormone–insulin-like growth factor-I axis under fasting conditions in liver. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Sep 10;110(37):14948-53. PMID: 23980167
8. Farzad Hayati, Mohsen Maleki, Maryam Pourmohammad, Kamran Sardari, Mehrdad Mohri Amir Afkhami. Influence of Short-term, Repeated Fasting on the Skin Wound Healing of Female Mice. Woundsresearch.com Link Here
9. Anderson JL, Carlquist JF, Roberts WL, Horne BD, May HT, Schwarz EL, Pasquali M, Nielson R, Kushnir MM, Rockwood AL, Bair TL, Muhlestein JB; Intermountain Heart Collaborative Study Group. Asymmetric dimethylarginine, cortisol/cortisone ratio, and C-peptide: markers for diabetes and cardiovascular risk? Am Heart J. 2007 Jan;153(1):67-73. PMID: 17174641
10. Growth Horomone Wikipedia Link Here
11. Insulin Wikipedia Link Here
12. Lanzi R, Luzi L, Caumo A, Andreotti AC, Manzoni MF, Malighetti ME, Sereni LP, Pontiroli AE. Elevated insulin levels contribute to the reduced growth hormone (GH) response to GH-releasing hormone in obese subjects. Metabolism. 1999 Sep;48(9):1152-6. PMID: 10484056
13. Ji S, Guan R, Frank SJ, Messina JL. Insulin inhibits growth hormone signaling via the growth hormone receptor/JAK2/STAT5B pathway. J Biol Chem. 1999 May 7;274(19):13434-42. PMID: 10224108
14. Jin H Son, Jung Hee Shim, Kyung-Hee Kim, Ji-Young Ha and Ji Young Han. Neuronal autophagy and neurodegenerative diseases. Experimental & Molecular Medicine. Nature.com
15. Young JE, Martinez RA, La Spada AR. Nutrient deprivation induces neuronal autophagy and implicates reduced insulin signaling in neuroprotective autophagy activation. J Biol Chem. 2009 Jan 23;284(4):2363-73. PMID: 19017649
16. Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010 Aug;6(6):702-10. PMID: 20534972
17. Mattson MP. Challenging oneself intermittently to improve health. Dose Response. 2014 Oct 20;12(4):600-18. PMID: 25552960
18. Li L, Wang Z, Zuo Z. Chronic intermittent fasting improves cognitive functions and brain structures in mice. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 3;8(6):e66069. PMID: 23755298
19. Diniz BS, Teixeira AL. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and Alzheimer’s disease: physiopathology and beyond. Neuromolecular Med. 2011 Dec;13(4):217-22. PMID: 21898045
20. Levenson CW, Rich NJ. Eat less, live longer? New insights into the role of caloric restriction in the brain. Nutr Rev. 2007 Sep;65(9):412-5. PMID: 17958208
21. Gillette-Guyonnet S, Vellas B. Caloric restriction and brain function. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Nov;11(6):686-92. PMID: 18827571
22. Fontán-Lozano A, López-Lluch G, Delgado-García JM, Navas P, Carrión AM. Molecular bases of caloric restriction regulation of neuronal synaptic plasticity. Mol Neurobiol. 2008 Oct;38(2):167-77. PMID: 18759009
23. Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014 Feb 4;19(2):181-92. PMID: 24440038

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17 Responses to 4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain Function

  1. mike May 21, 2014 at 6:01 am #

    I believe in fasting, but look at the resources for this article no real studies, just internet baloney–careful out there.

    • maggie January 18, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

      you think so, i was planning to do it, long ago i read p bragg and should be very good

    • Deidre Le Franc February 13, 2016 at 3:48 am #

      Thankyou so much for your advice

  2. Janece January 25, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    I did it! It works. I lost 10 pounds in 3 weeks. I followed the plan closely, and ate all organic foods, grass fed beef, at plenty of veggies and did the smoothie first each day around noon…Ate a little at 2-3 and then ate whatever I wanted each PM. Great healthy diet that increases energy..

  3. Dr. Jockers January 25, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

    Great job Janece! Very proud of you! Fantastic discipline and results!

  4. Tamie Bilazzo April 16, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    I saw you speaking intermittent fasting at “The Truth About Cancer” two weeks ago. Encouraged by your enthusiasm, I decided to try 18 hours fasting from 7 pm to 1 pm. I drank about 2 x 64 oz water with lime, ACV, ginger. Surprisingly, I was not hungry at all and felt great. I was wearing size 8 pants. Only 2 weeks later, my old petit size 2 jeans fit. It is truly amazing. My question to Dr. Jockers is this eating schedule (I eat meal at 1 pm and 7 pm with small snack between) will affect on my adrenal and thyroid health? Dr. Alan Christianson and other Adrenal and Thyroid functional medicine doctors talk about the importance of breakfast (have to eat within 30 min after you get up and have to have some protein in it). I had H.Pylori and stomach ulcer in the past. I did not better… I took triple antibiotics to kill H.P. and the consequence is my very thin stomach lining. I can tell my gut lining is healing with intermittent fasting. Could you tell me your thought? I appreciate it. Tamie

  5. Dr. Jockers April 16, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Hey Tammie,

    I have seen great results with IF with many different patient types. This includes individuals with adrenal and thyroid problems. It is very key to drink lots of water (especially water with lemon or ACV) and herbal tea if possible during your cleansing phase.

    You may also try some coconut oil/coconut milk or MCT oil in tea or organic coffee if you like. As long as you are feeling good with this (not overly tired or having hormonal problems) than I would absolutely continue with this.

    Your gut is healing faster when you IF so great job! Many Blessings!

    • Tamie Bilazzo April 16, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

      Hi Dr. Jockers,

      Thank you SO much for getting back to me. The message you were sending out on the show “The Truth about Cancer” (I purchased the DVD – I will listen again) was like the BIG light bulb lit up moment for me. I could not fit size 8 jeans and now I have a room on the waist line by wearing petit size 2 jeans which I put on the shelf for easy a decade. Only took just two weeks… just amazing! I look the same but I LOST weight of visceral fat!!! My blood sugar + hemoglobin A1c are creeping up high which my doctor has no idea, reverse T3 is high (free T3 is dead low), afternoon energy crash, losing my hair, weight gain even I no longer eat grains and sweet, various food sensitivity, and insomnia are common symptoms for last few years. I was forcing myself to eat breakfast because of sluggish thyroid (TSH 4.0) and weakened adrenal (Low all day cortisol level). But I have never ever knew skipping breakfast (I thought it is the big boo boo !!!) is making such a differences in my life. Maybe one day, I do not need to take 1,000 mg of HCL every meal? I have been feeling GREAT in the very fist time in two decades. i totally have a faith in you, Dr. Jockers. I snack this sweet “coconuts oil + mama root + hemp seeds + flax seeds + carob powder + nuts butter + stevia + very small portion of nuts (I need to buy dehydrator)”mix them and put it into to freezer for a few minutes and munch when I have sugar cravings. Thank you again for your comment. I truly appreciate it. Tamie Bilazzo Lic. Ac.

      • Dr. Jockers April 17, 2015 at 5:58 am #

        Hey Tamie,

        It sounds like you have had a damaged gut for a long-time. I would recommend doing an auto-immune diet and adding in extra gut lining support such as L-glutamine, aloe vera, DGL, soil based probiotics, etc in order to get your gut stronger. Also, balancing your adrenals and improving liver function will help you balance out T3. If you would like to do a long-distance consult in the future let me know. Blessings!

  6. Tamie Bilazzo April 20, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Hi Dr. Jockers,

    Is there anyway you can write and post article about “intermittent fasting for adrenal fatigue and sluggish thyroid folks”? Dr. Mercola, Dr. Christiansen, Dr. Kalish give red flag warning in this topic. But I can see almost all of my patients, friends, family members are in some sort of adrenal fatigue and 80% of my patients are already taking syntheroid medication when they come to see me for acupuncture (for infertility) treatment. Intermittent Fasting definitely gave me “wonder” magic – I have been feeling better than ever – but the more I talk to people, they got back to me the fact they found the negative effects listed online for low adrenal and hypothyroid people. I thought it is worth asking. Again, I am feeling great! Thank you so much for posting your articles!!!!! Tamie

  7. Dr. Jockers November 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

    That is fantastic John! Let us know how it goes for you and what your experience is like. Many Blessings!

  8. hnone March 9, 2016 at 6:41 am #

    Intermittent fasting screws up your thyroid and adrenal hormones if done for too many weeks. Read some experiences of people who have tried this; quite a few of them relate this.

    • Dr. Jockers March 9, 2016 at 6:45 am #

      This is true if the individual has significant adrenal issues to begin or if the IF is done incorrectly and the individual has daily practices that overtax the adrenals. In general, IF supports the adrenals and thyroid by keeping inflammation under control and improving the health of the gut lining.

  9. Rona May 7, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Hi, I am 63yr old woman with diabeties type 2 I have a six hour eating window and when I eat it is as low carb as I can, I do this every day it is just the routine I like and am fine with it The problem is I have been told I have fibro and finding the pain so exsausting do you think my diet can be making my fibro worse, my family dont like my eating habits and think that has to do with my pain.
    I want to keep on going as I think if anything it would help my fibro. I am not on meds of any kind I hate them, I am trying so hard not to take pain killers it just not me and I am so confused what to do.
    I am a thin D 5ft3in and weigh 53k there is a lot of D in my family not I might add from overweight I have never been over weight in my life and always had a good diet, it’s just the genes I have been given. Every one thinks I should just take the pills and get on with it but I don’t think that is the way to go is there and suplement I should be taking to help I do take magnesium citrate and have made magnesium lotion I rub on my feet at bed time It helps me to relax. hope you can help.

  10. Preethi July 16, 2017 at 7:30 am #

    Hi I’m 40 years old I’m planning to fast once in a week from sunrise to sunset with out drinking or eating anything is it ok

    • Dr. Jockers July 20, 2017 at 9:36 am #

      Yes Preethi an occasional 24 hour fast can be very beneficial for the body!

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