4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain Function

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intermittent fasting improves brain

4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Brain Function

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.

The research is coming out about the impressive benefits of intermittent and extended fasting and the media is starting to cover this.  I was invited to discuss this topic in a recent interview on The Hallmark Channel’s Home and Family show. Check out the video towards the bottom of this article.

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 improves brain

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.

These sorts 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.

fasting improves brain

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 there is less clutter blocking healthy neurological function in the brain.

fasting improves 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.

I was recently asked to discuss how fasting improves our brain health on the Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family show.  Check it out in the video below.

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.

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 antioxidants and micronutrients that enhance healing while not interacting with insulin or HGH levels.

Check out this article, where I discuss the various ways, you can begin and create an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

fasting side effects, Fasting Side Effects: New Study Reveals

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, antioxidants, 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 every day. 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.  If you prefer to eat breakfast and lunch and fast through dinner that works great as well!

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.  Crescendo fasting is an example where you would do 2 non-consecutive days per week of a 16 hour fast.

If you reduce sugar and carbs in your diet and increase healthy fats and implement an intermittent fasting lifestyle, you will see the results as fasting improves brain function and prevents age related mental decline.

I want to introduce you to my best-selling book, The Fasting Transformation.  It goes into the most recent scientific research and strategies for implementing intermittent and extended fasting into your life.

Partial Fasting, Partial Fasting: Healing Benefits and Top 5 Ways To Do It

Metabolic Autophagy & Cellular Healing Masterclass

Autophagy is the body’s innate mechanism for deep cellular healing and repair and it helps us reduce the effects of aging, inflammation and cellular damage.

The Nobel Prize in 2016 was awarded to the Japanese researcher Yoshinori Ohsumi for his breakthrough work in helping us understand the process of autophagy and how it works.  If you are struggling with your health or desire to optimize your health, activating the appropriate amount of autophagy is a critical component.

This masterclass will give you in-depth video trainings along with image-rich, research-based guides to help you understand the tools and strategies to unlock your body’s dormant healing potential.  You will also learn my signature 6-week Metabolic Reset Cycle that will show you how to utilize advanced nutrition strategies for deep cellular healing!

This Masterclass is Designed to Help You with the Following:

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  • Age Slower and More Gracefully
  • Improve Your Mood, Memory & Brain Health

Check out the masterclass here where you will learn my best action steps for optimal healing!

Dr. Jockers, About Dr. Jockers

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 fasting improves brain health. Dose Response. 2014 Oct 20;12(4):600-18. PMID: 25552960
18. Li L, Wang Z, Zuo Z. Chronic intermittent fasting improves brain 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 fasting improves 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

cerebrovascular disease, Cerebrovascular Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Support Strategies

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

    1. How about the last 10 or 15 thousand years of fasting for healing, for spiritual reasons and plain old there is nothing to eat. There is your research, and done before there were any people such as a scientist to tell you about it. And if you look you will find that there are hundreds of studies on the net done by research doctors who have published research papers, and wrote books on it, before posting on the internet. If you don’t care for the ease of finding out the information you want on the internet, there is the old way to do it. Go to a library, and spend a few days just looking for what you need to find about any subject. That is how I did it for over 50 years before we got the internet.

  2. 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. 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

  4. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

  5. 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

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. Does taking antioxidants such as vitamin C or E decrease the benefits of fasting in the same way its said to in exercising?

    1. Hey Vander, if you’re not taking incredibly high doses this shouldn’t be a problem. Also, as long as you are cycling them there will be minimal issues. Take a day or two off of these once a week or so.

  10. Hi, I want to look at scientific articles about intermittent fasting. Could you please share some articles? Thanks!

  11. Dr Jockers:

    I would truly appreciate your advice. I eat very “clean” (only fresh vegs, meats, no grains or legumes – ie: low carb), no processed foods. I do serious workouts 4 – 5 days a week. In other words, I take good care of myself. I am 61 years old and have had Hypothyroidism for years. In the past 2 years, I have gained 20 pounds, even though I eat so healthy and exercise. I have recently found out that the healthy cruciferous vegetables that have been the bulk of my diet actually work against my thyroid. I just can’t win!

    I have tried all I know to try to lose these 20 pounds. Just accepting it is not an option.

    I have read your article about intermittent fasting and it really intrigues me. I would like to try it for all the health reasons you you outline in your article.

    In the past 10 years, I have done a 30-day fasts twice (just juiced vegetables and fruits), so I am not a stranger to the concept of fasting.

    Could you please provide the specific “how-to” steps to undertake? Specifically, what foods to eat and when.

    I appreciate your help.


  12. Dr. Jockers,

    I have MS since 2002 and in the last 6 years I have started to see the disability of MS. I can’t run any more due to the right leg is dragging and walking started to become difficult. Do you think IF will help me with my walking?


  13. hnone,i am a stage 4 non-hodgkin lymphoma survivor,3 plus years and counting ( GOD-NATURE (the worlds largest/free/no side effects pharmacy) and an unending strong-Focused mind…………..++++++++++++i have been doing an 18/23 hour fasting for over 3 years……………………..NO PROBLEM !!!!!!! Mario (Canada)

  14. Being in this lockdown period, staying at our homes, no movement, no physical activity because of lack of gym equipment at our homes, can result in tremendous weight gain and increased body fat which can affect our mental health too.
    In this lockdown, many of our friends are suffering from weight gain and they are getting low because of it. They want to lose weight but because of this lockdown we can’t move out, go to walk, or do gym.
    So I suggested them Intermittent fasting. There are many benefits of Intermittent fasting as it helps in losing weight, improves heart health, and many more.

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