This data comes from scientists from the National Institute on Aging, who found that mice who were fed every other day developed more neurons and synaptic connections which enhanced their brain function.
The new findings bolster earlier studies demonstrating the advantages of fasting for age-related and cardiovascular diseases.
The body switches from consuming energy sources from glucose, which is produced in the liver, to fat cells during intermittent fasting. This helps fortify activity and cell development in the brain.
This shift only happens during fasting, as the body normally uses the liver’s energy stores for around 10 to 14 hours in humans, according to Dr. Mark Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute of Aging.
This reaction is similar to the popular ketogenic diet, which also encourages the body to draw energy from fat cells. He explained: “When those stores are out, human, as well as animal bodies, switch to fat stores, which are converted into compounds called ketones in the blood. Ketones act directly on the nerve cells to stimulate the production of BDNF — a key protein to neuron growth — and may help optimize cognition, learning, and memory-building.”
Dr. Mattson compares the effect of fasting to working out. When the body doesn’t continue fasting, the effects are lost. He continued on by saying that intermittent fasting, like exercise, can have long-term benefits in the body. (Related: Fasting activates your body’s ‘survival’ mode, boosting your immune system.)
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After in vivo testing and comparative studies, the advantages of fasting were “independent of overall calorie intake.” The study then pointed to the “metabolic switch from glucose use to ketones” as a key factor for the benefits of fasting.
While neuron development occurs in the ‘resting’ period between fasting sessions, the brain has displayed some benefits during the fasting as well.
It was noted that the mice in the investigation were more alert and indicated increased activity in brain areas in charge of learning and memory during the fasting period.
“One would assume that in evolution, individuals whose brains did not function well in fasting state were likely not to survive,” Dr. Mattson continue. “So, we evolved to eat intermittently, and it’s important that the brain function well – perhaps even optimally – when we haven’t been able to eat for an extended time period.”
While he states that the every-other-day fasting used for the mice wouldn’t work for humans, earlier research has demonstrated that people adapt easily to a 5:2 fasting regimen, which requires two days of fasting every week.
Another ongoing study is determining how irregular fasting on the 5:2 plan may benefit obese individuals who are more likely to be at risk of cognitive impairment due to their ages and metabolic statuses.
Earlier studies have proven the benefits of periodic fasting. Researchers from the University of Southern California has stated that occasional fasting can enable individuals to remain healthy. In an animal study, fasting can slow down the destruction of cells and encourage its regeneration.
Moreover, a recent study demonstrated that a diet that consists of fasting may help with glucose control for diabetes, not only for those suffering from Type 2 diabetes but also with Type 1, which is not caused by diet, but with a defective immune system. The fast, according to the study may help reprogram beta cells in the pancreas to create insulin.