Intermittent fasting (IF) is more than just a weight-loss trend; it’s a practice with profound effects on our bodies and minds.
Notably, several studies have linked this eating pattern with a range of benefits for brain health.
In this article, we will discuss the current findings of how intermittent fasting can potentially benefit your cognitive health.
The Impact Of Intermittent Fasting On Cognitive Functions
Intermittent fasting may benefit our brain health in several ways. Let’s take a look at each one
Neuroplasticity is like the brain’s superpower. It’s the ability of the brain to reshape and reorganize its neural networks based on new experiences, learning, and even in response to damage.
In other words, the brain is not a static organ but rather a dynamic and ever-changing one.
Intermittent fasting stimulates a process known as synaptic plasticity, a core part of neuroplasticity.
This process involves the strengthening or weakening of synapses, the junctions where neurons communicate.
Research shows that IF can stimulate the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a pivotal role in this synaptic plasticity.
BDNF encourages the growth and survival of neurons, fortifying the brain’s circuitry. Therefore, a higher BDNF level, facilitated by IF, could enhance the brain’s plasticity.
Reduces Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Oxidative stress is like rust for the body. It’s caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage cells, including neurons.
Inflammation, on the other hand, is the body’s natural response to injury or infection but can be harmful if it becomes chronic.
Both oxidative stress and inflammation can lead to neurodegeneration over time.
Intermittent fasting can help reduce these two culprits. When you’re in a fasted state, your body begins to induce a process called autophagy.
Think of autophagy as the body’s internal housekeeping service. It clears out damaged cells and proteins, reducing oxidative stress.
Simultaneously, some studies also showed that IF lowered levels of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body, thus reducing inflammation.
Slows Down Brain Aging
Aging is a natural process, but some factors can accelerate it, including oxidative stress, inflammation, and reduced autophagy.
As we’ve just seen, intermittent fasting can help combat these issues.
By reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, and boosting autophagy, IF may potentially help to slow the process of brain aging. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
Additionally, the ketones produced during fasting are not only an efficient fuel source for the brain but may also have neuroprotective effects.
A study published in “Frontiers” found that rats fed a ketogenic diet had better brain energy metabolism and improved cognitive function, suggesting a potential decelerating effect on brain aging.
Helps In The Prevention Of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are characterized by the gradual loss of function of neurons.
The exact cause of these diseases is still under investigation, but oxidative stress, inflammation, and decreased autophagy are suspected to play a role.
Again by enhancing autophagy, reducing oxidative stress, and inflammation, intermittent fasting could potentially help in preventing these diseases.
For instance, a review published in the journal “Nutrients” suggested that IF could improve brain health and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
However, it’s important to remember that while the evidence is promising, more research, particularly in humans, is needed.
Improves Mood And Mental Health
The brain-gut connection is a topic of great interest in science.
What you eat (and don’t eat) can significantly impact your brain and mood. Interestingly, IF might help improve mood and overall mental health.
One of the ways IF might achieve this is by increasing the levels of BDNF, which, besides promoting neuroplasticity, also has an important role in mood regulation.
Lower levels of BDNF have been associated with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, by boosting BDNF, IF could potentially contribute to improved mental health.
Additionally, IF can influence the gut microbiota, the community of bacteria in your gut.
These bacteria produce a variety of compounds that can affect brain function and mood.
Tips To Improve Cognitive Functions During Intermittent Fasting
Here are some strategies you can use to improve your overall cognitive function when you practice intermittent fasting (IF).
The practice of meditation has been shown to enhance cognitive functions like focus, memory, and creativity.
Regular practice can also help manage stress levels, which is especially crucial during periods of fasting.
By reducing stress and anxiety, you allow your brain to function more efficiently, thus enhancing the cognitive benefits of IF.
While it might be tempting to indulge in a glass of wine or beer during your eating windows, it’s advisable to limit alcohol consumption during IF.
Alcohol can interfere with the cognitive benefits of fasting, mainly because it has been linked to impaired memory, reduced concentration, and poor decision-making.
Consider Using Technology
Apps like Sensa.Health can help you navigate intermittent fasting more effectively.
These types of apps provide tools for tracking fasting periods and offer helpful insights into your body’s responses to fasting.
Additionally, it can help you cope with negative emotions and cravings during your fasting period.
Your fasting plan can be optimized to suit your cognitive health goals with the help of these kinds of apps.
Play Brain Games
Keeping your brain active and engaged is another way to maximize cognitive benefits during IF.
Brain games, whether they’re puzzles, memory games, or strategy-based video games, can stimulate various cognitive skills.
Just as physical exercise strengthens the body, cognitive exercises can help to strengthen and maintain the mind.
Exercise also releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which can improve mood and mental health. Whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or weightlifting, find a physical activity you enjoy and make it part of your routine.
Intermittent fasting presents a unique and promising approach to enhancing brain health.
By potentially boosting your cognitive health, IF emerges as more than just a dietary trend.
However, as intriguing as these insights are, they should be coupled with an understanding that more research is needed to fully understand the extent and nuances of these benefits.
Always remember, your health journey is personal and should align with your unique needs and lifestyle.
Seek advice from your physician before making any drastic changes in your diet.