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 improves brain health and 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.
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, 7, 8).
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.
These sort of results pertain to cardiovascular health but they are also markers of overall inflammation. By reducing the inflammatory state of the body, fasting improves brain function and overall tissue healing.
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). In this way, fasting improves brain function as their is less clutter blocking healthy neurological function in the brain.
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, 21, 22). 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.
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.
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.
We know that fasting improves brain function and developing strategies that allow you to do this successfully is well worth your time and energy. As you begin fasting, you build up the metabolic muscle and it becomes significantly easier within a week or 2 of starting.
I highly recommend doing at least 2-3 days of intermittent fasting each week to get the benefits. This can be spaced out if you are struggling so it isn’t on consecutive days. You will see the results as fasting improves brain function and prevents age related mental decline.