We all know that fasting can be great for the body, with benefits including improved metabolic health, increased longevity and better heart health. We have found how most ancient civilizations practiced fasting to achieve longevity and higher states of consciousness. Modern research also shows it could also do your brain good ― especially if you’re at risk for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have shown, how fasting benefits the brain on a neurological level. There are many different techniques and schools of thought on fasting, but the practice usually involves abstaining from food (or following a very calorie-restricted diet) for anything from 24 hours to a few days, to weeks (or more!).
Previous research has suggested that fasting can significantly improve cognitive function, stimulating faster learning and better memory. Neuroscientists have linked overactive synaptic activity with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease, and therefore fasting could be an effective preventative measure.
Here is an excellent video to a TEDx talk given by Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging. He is also a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University, and one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Mark and his team have published several papers and studies that discuss how simply fasting twice a week could significantly lower the risk of developing cognitive diseases.
“Dietary changes have long been known to have an effect on the brain. Children who suffer from epileptic seizures have fewer of them when placed on caloric restriction or fasts. It is believed that fasting helps kick-start protective measures that help counteract the overexcited signals that epileptic brains often exhibit. (Some children with epilepsy have also benefited from a specific high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.) Normal brains, when overfed, can experience another kind of uncontrolled excitation, impairing the brain’s function, Mattson and another researcher reported in January in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.”
Basically, when you take a look at caloric restriction studies, many of them show a prolonged lifespan as well as an increased ability to fight chronic disease.
“Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear.”
The quote above is from a review of the literature that is more than 10 years old. The work presented here is now showing some of these mechanisms that were previously unclear.
Fasting does good things for the brain, and this is evident by all of the beneficial neurochemical changes that happen in the brain when we fast. It also improves cognitive function, increases neurotrophic factors, increases stress resistance, and reduces inflammation.
"Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and your brain responds to that challenge by adapting stress response pathways which help your brain cope with stress and risk for disease. The same changes that occur in the brain during fasting mimic the changes that occur with regular exercise. They both increase the production of protein in the brain (neurotrophic factors), which in turn promotes the growth of neurons, the connection between neurons, and the strength of synapses."
"Within only a few hours, dietary restriction trigger a response to our molecular pathways that govern synaptic activity, or neurotransmitter release. By overall reducing the release of neurotransmitters from synapses in the brain, fasting gives the nervous system a break, researchers note."
“Challenges to your brain, whether it’s intermittent fasting [or] vigorous exercise … is cognitive challenges. When this happens neuro-circuits are activated, levels of neurotrophic factors increase, that promotes the growth of neurons [and] the formation and strengthening of synapses…”
“Fasting can also stimulate the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus. He also mentions ketones (an energy source for neurons), and how fasting stimulates the production of ketones and that it may also increase the number of mitochondria in neurons. Fasting also increases the number of mitochondria in nerve cells; this comes as a result of the neurons adapting to the stress of fasting (by producing more mitochondria).” - CoreSpirit
By increasing the number of mitochondria in the neurons, the ability for neurons to form and maintain the connections between each other also increases, thereby improving learning and memory ability. “Intermittent fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA.”
A study published in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California showed that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and, moreover, induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. It triggers stem cell based regeneration of an organ or system.
Human clinical trials were conducted using patients who were receiving chemotherapy. For long periods of time, patients did not eat, which significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. "This means that fasting kills off old and damaged immune cells, and when the body rebounds it uses stem cells to create brand new, completely healthy cells." - Core Spirit
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the heatopoietic system. . . . When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged. What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. ” – Valter Longo, corresponding author.
A scientific review of multiple scientific studies regarding fasting was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. It examined a multitude of both human and animal studies and determined that fasting is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed significant potential in treating diabetes.
Before You Fast
Make sure you do your research on the type of fasting you should start with. You don’t want to jump into starvation if you don't have a plan or a grounded support to switch into from your current lifestyle. There are many kinds of patterning you can do,
One recommended way of doing it — which was tested by the BBC’s Michael Mosley in order to reverse his diabetes, high cholesterol, and other problems that were associated with his obesity — is what is known as the “5:2 Diet.” On the 5:2 plan, you cut your food down to one-fourth of your normal daily calories on fasting days (about 600 calories for men and about 500 for women), while consuming plenty of water and non-caffeinated tea. On the other five days of the week, you can eat normally.
Another way you can do it is by choosing one day a week (or twice a month), where you'll know you'll be taking it easy, and you could lower your intake. Please focus on de-stressing and drinking lots of good water and tea the majority of the day. Get a massage, or do gentle yin yoga to assist the detox.
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