Fasting Two Days a Week May Benefit Your Brain
By Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have collected evidence that reducing food intake to under 500 calories per day for two days a week may help to prevent brain damage from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Diseases.
FASTING GROWS NEW NERVES
Mark Mattson of Johns Hopkins has shown that fasting increases the growth of new neurons in the brain, and this can help prevent dementia. He believes that: “The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells.
He also showed that skipping meals stimulates brain cells in mice to produce Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) that causes the brain to grow new nerves, helps protect nerve cells from being damaged by toxins, and helps mice learn new things.
SKIPPING MEALS PROTECTS THE BRAIN
Earlier studies showed that mice who fast every other day while eating double the normal amount of food on non-fasting days have better protection from becoming diabetic (lower insulin and sugar levels), and less brain damage from poisons than mice on 40 percent calorie-restricted diets.
Meal-skipping mice gorge when provided food so they do not eat fewer calories than mice on unrestricted diets.
In the same study, mice were given a chemical, called kainate, that damages nerves in the same part of the brain damaged by Alzheimer’s disease. The meal-skipping mice had far less brain damage than those who were on a 40 percent reduced calorie diet.
EXERCISING HELPS YOUR BRAIN STORE MORE GLYCOGEN
More than 98 percent of the energy for the brain comes from sugar in the bloodstream. Ten years ago, it was shown for the first time that certain brain cells, called astrocytes, store sugar in the same way and form (glycogen) that muscles store sugar.
Like muscles, the brain can store extra glycogen and like muscles, the brain will have greater endurance and function better when it stores more glycogen.
During exercise, your brain uses up tremendous amounts of sugar, directing each muscle fiber to contract and relax. It takes a lot of energy to do this. Recently, a study from Japan showed that when rats exercise, their brains use up their stores of glycogen in the same way that muscles use up glycogen.
When the rats ate after exercising, their brains, like their muscles, were able to store up to 60 percent more glycogen than they could before they exercised. After 24 hours, their brain levels of glycogen dropped to their previously lower levels.
However, when the rats continued to exercise regularly for four more weeks, their brains were able to store much higher levels after eating and the levels did not drop soon afterwards.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Future studies will tell if intermittent fasting is more effective than overall calorie restriction in preventing and treating dementia in humans.
Meanwhile, you may want to try intermittent fasting to lose weight or to avoid the weight gain that often comes with aging. The recent studies shows that adding exercise to intermittent fasting may make you even smarter.
Dr. Pinna says:
I not only believe what Dr. Mirkin has written in this article, I practice it as well. I rarely eat more than two meals daily. And, breakfast is a Japanese style Miso Soup with tofu and seaweed.
All research that I am aware of, indicates that CALORIC RESTRICTION is the “Name of the Game.”
All animals, including primates, who are placed on Caloric Restriction live longer and are healthier.
The explanation is still unclear. There is a “Stress Factor” associated with caloric restriction. When cells are put under “stress” they adapt.
“Adaptation” is a way of saying the molecules of the cell use less energy and therefore produce less toxic metabolic products. This action conserves the cell.
In addition, all societies and religions practice “Fasting. When billions of people do something, there is always a good reason. Fasting has been shown over millennia (thousands of years) to preserve health.