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The Four Brain Benefits of Fasting.

Mindful Fasting - How a little fasting has big effects on the brain.

When was the last time you fasted? No, not were hungry for a while, really fasted?

Our forefathers from ancient Greece (Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle included) were abstaining from food and touting its rejuvenating effects on health.

The most common types of fasts are intermittent fasting and periodic fasting (1). What’s the difference?

The difference is merely the duration of the fast.

Popular intermittent fasts (duration ranges from half a day to a full day of fasting) include the 16/8 method, the Warrior diet and alternate day fasting. Periodic fasts last several days or longer every 2 or more weeks.

Do you live to eat or do you eat to live?

You’d better get yourself in the second state of mind if you want to delay aging and increase lifespan (1). Want a few more reasons?

Fasting decreases insulin resistance (associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome) and may reduce the chances of getting cancer (1).

Fasting, brain plasticity and mood

1. Increased neuro-protective chemicals.

One theory is that fasting subjects your cells to just the right amount of stress.

Cells respond positively to this stress by acclimatizing to it, and this enhances their ability to efficiently function in sub-optimal conditions.

The hunger neuropeptides and hormones released in the brain during fasting have been found to be crucial in mediating brain benefits. What’s more?

Factors such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neuropeptide Y and grehlin can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and increase brain cell health – generally keeping your brain running like a well-oiled machine (1).

2. Increased synaptic plasticity - the underlying process of memory.

Fasting is that it has been found to increase synaptic plasticity – the ability to form new neuronal connections (1).

What does this mean to you?

This particular superpower of our brains is what enables us to learn and remember.

So next time you’re cramming for a test or rehearsing for that big presentation, might considering doing so on an empty stomach.

3. Regular fasting results in better mood and reduced anxiety

Concerned the hunger pangs during your fast will make you cranky?

Maybe in the short term, but there’s an upside.

Longer periods of fasting have been shown to improve mood, increase feelings of euphoria and overall well-being (2). Feel better about it?

Better mood and reduced anxiety were reported in participants who either went through complete fasting for 10 days, modified days of caloric restriction or a mix of days of complete fasts and diet restriction (2).

4. Decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are not fun.

Fasting has been shown to protect the brain against these diseases (3).

This, along with the reduced chance of diabetes and some types of cancer may show that in terms of food, a lot less may be a lot more. Still Curious?

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  1. Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: Molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014 Feb 4; 19(2): 181–192.

  2. Fond G, Macgregor A, Leboyer M, Michalsen A. Fasting in mood disorders: neurobiology and effectiveness. A review of the literature. Psychiatry Research. 2013 Oct 30;209(3):253-258.

  3. Bruce-Keller AJ, Umberger G, McFall R, Mattson MP. Food restriction reduces brain damage and improves behavioral outcome following excitotoxic and metabolic insults. Ann Neurol. 1999 Jan; 45(1):8-15.