Intermittent fasting may be good for your brain

Intermittent fasting may be good for your brain

Many adults and even children in industrialized countries struggle with their weight. An estimated 160 million Americans are overweight or obese. We are always searching for that “magic bullet” that will help us to lose weight and keep it off. The latest buzz is “intermittent fasting.” Diets based on intermittent fasting come in many varieties, but all such diets advise abstention from eating between the hours of x and y.


When you engage in intermittent fasting, your blood sugar falls. Your organs typically use sugar as a source of energy for their critical functions. In the absence of sugar certain organs in your body turn to another energy source: ketones.


Ketones and the brain.


Some clinicians have resorted to diets that increase ketone levels in the brain to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. Others claim that high ketone levels may be of benefit in neurological disorders, including headache, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and even brain cancer.


Intermittent fasting may increase the brain’s resistance to disease and also improve thinking and mood:


In 2018, Scientists at Johns Hopkins reported their findings on the effects of fasting on the brain. They intermittently deprived rats of food for stretches of either sixteen or twenty four hours. They discovered that the metabolic brain pathways switched back and forth in the test animals. During the fasting state the animals’ brains metabolized ketones and during the recovery period their brains reverted to sugar metabolism. They reported that intermittent metabolic switching, repeating cycles of a metabolic challenge, optimized brain function and resilience throughout the rats’ lifespan. They reported particular benefits on the neuronal circuits involved in cognition and mood. Such metabolic switching impacts multiple signalling pathways that promote neuroplasticity and resistance of the brain to injury and disease.


High ketone levels may improve memory and stave off dementia.


Dozens of recent studies have implied that the brain benefits from the use of ketones as its major energy source. Researchers reported improvements in memory performance, verbal skills and processing of thoughts in cognitively impaired individuals, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease. Neurological improvements have also been reported in the mental processes of non demented elderly individuals and those with Parkinson’s disease.


The quality of these studies has been uneven. Some have been the “gold standard,” (double-blind, placebo-controlled) while others have been more speculative.


What is the science behind intermittent fasting and the brain?


Higher levels of ketones increase the number of mitochondria, so called “energy factories” in brain cells. A recent study found enhanced mitochondrial activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for learning and memory.


Ketones have antioxidant properties. They decrease the production of oxidizing molecules, and enhance their breakdown.


Ketones reduce brain inflammation by increasing certain poly-unsaturated fatty acids.