How Intermittent Fasting Affects the Brain
You may have come across many diet plans suggesting what to eat and in what amount. But have you ever thought, what is the best time to eat? Has any diet plan ever suggested that when to eat and when not to so that you can make the most of your food? If not, then we’re here with something very special for you!
This article is about intermittent fasting and how it benefits the human body. We’ll be focusing on the effects of such fasting especially on the brain and cognitive working. You may be thinking that how can fasting be so beneficial, right? But this is something more than usual fasting and can do wonders for you! Let’s dig into the details of what happens and how!
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that includes a planned schedule transiting between fasting and eating periods regularly. Where most of the diet plans focus on what to eat, intermittent fasting is all about when to eat. In this eating plan, you eat for a specific time and then fast for a fixed number of hours. You eat just one meal in a couple of days which helps your body burn extra fats.
Many research studies prove intermittent fasting to be very effective against weight gain and many forms of diseases. According to the researchers at John Hopkins University, human bodies can go without food for hours and days. This concept can be traced back to prehistoric times when people didn’t know how to farm and lived upon hunting only. They could easily thrive for long periods without eating. The researchers also add that people in the past had lesser calories but worked more and thus the ratio for diseases was low. However, the present lifestyles are mostly sedentary and people are taking extra calories which gives rise to diseases like obesity, diabetes, etc. If people practice intermittent fasting, it can help them keep such diseases at bay.
What happens during intermittent fasting?
On regular basis, people eat throughout their waking hours but in the case of intermittent fasting, you have to choose specific periods for eating and fasting. And you can’t break the cycle! For example, you can eat only for 8 hours every day and fast for the other 16 hours of the day. Also, you can choose to eat one meal during the day and skip the rest. After hours without eating, your body starts utilizing its stored reserves for the production of energy. It will start exhausting the sugars and fats referred to as metabolic switching.
It is always recommended that you consult your doctor before starting with intermittent fasting. But the general pattern is; during the eating periods, you should eat normally. Avoid high-calorie junk food and fried items and opt for healthy fruits and vegetables. And during the fasting times, you can only drink water and beverages with zero calories.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting comes with a variety of both mental and physical health benefits. The metabolic switch during eating and fasting periods has proven to be great for the body and brain. Here are some quick general health benefits of intermittent fasting;
- Intermittent fasting improves your heart health by regulating your blood pressure and heart-related measurements.
- It causes significant weight loss due to the burning of fats and sugars. Also, the practice maintains muscle mass.
- Studies show that intermittent fasting can prevent diseases like obesity and diabetes.
- Studies show this type of eating and fasting to reduce tissue damage during surgeries.
- Intermittent fasting improves your mental wellbeing and cognitive abilities and here is how it does so.
Effect of intermittent fasting on the brain
Going without food for a long time can have long-term effects on your brain. It can safeguard your brain’s function and improve its working potential. As mentioned above, fasting can trigger a metabolic shift where your body switches from glucose/sugars to ketones. Ketones are produced by the liver using fats. The increased use of ketones causes greater burning of fats and the consequent biological cascade boosts your brain function ensuring resilience and improved cognitive productivity. This is because your cranial cells enter the survival or repair stage during fasting and growth and regeneration when eating.
The five major advantages of intermittent fasting include;
- Slow aging of the brain
- Regeneration of cranial cells
- The flexibility of the brain toward the neurological condition
- Improved psychological condition
- Good mood, thinking, and memory
Many studies serve as pieces of evidence for all the mentioned benefits. For instance, a 2019 study states that mice, deprived of food for 12-16 hours, exhibit higher levels of protein markers as compared to others. These protein markers were specific to the production of new brain cells. When you’re fasting, your body produces ghrelin which spurs the creation of newer brain cells. A 2015 study also confirmed this statement where mice who ate every other 24 hours showed greater ghrelin production than others. Also, once you are adapted to intermittent fasting, your brain works quickly during the fasting hours. You are likely to feel fresh and elevated which keeps your mood happy. Also, people who fast intermittently are linked with good memory and critical thinking.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Scott went on to work as a teacher and educational counselor while working towards his master’s degree. He has spent several years working with children and adults and has personal experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dyslexia, and Depression.