At Integrative Psychiatry we view Intermittent Fasting (IF) as a valuable health routine with possible long-term benefits that reach beyond helping with weight loss.
Research studies are showing that there are positive outcomes for brain health with intermittent fasting.
Evidence, from studies with mice, indicates some forms of IF can delay the onset and progression of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease by improving cognitive function and reducing brain plaque.
From a neuroscience perspective, fasting regimens sustained over months or years have the potential to improve memory as well as executive function and overall cognition.
And, according to Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging and a professor at John Hopkins University, studies with lab animals show that the brain and body perform better during fasting. Cognitive function, learning, memory, and alertness are all increased by fasting.
Is Intermittent Fasting just Calorie Restriction?
They may seem similar but an intermittent fasting cycle and a calorie-restrictive diet are significantly different.
The National Institute of Health says calorie restriction is a consistent pattern of reducing average daily calories. Basically, it means reducing average daily calorie intake below what is typical without reaching malnutrition. The key here is calorie counting daily to take in less than what your body needs to use in a day, without jeopardizing your health by depriving the body of essential nutrients.
Intermittent fasting involves adopting an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and fasting. Rather than focusing on permanent caloric restrictions, when fasting a person will restrict calories for a block of hours or days and then eat regularly the rest of the time. Fasting aims to give the body a rest and an IF protocol offers more flexibility than traditional diet restrictions.
Part of the flexibility with IF is that there is more than one way to do it. Many people find more success with IF because they can pick the method that fits into their busy lifestyle.
What is an Intermittent Fasting cycle?
Three widely used and studied fasting regimens are Alternate Day Fasting, 5:2 Fasting, and Time-restricted Eating. In addition, there are three parameters that characterize a fasting regimen — the intensity of the food and drink restriction, the frequency of the fasting periods, and the duration of the fasting period.
Alternate Day Fasting is when you fast every other day. This limits you to 500-700 calories of food and drinks on fasting days, but you eat normal meals on non-fasting days.
5:2 Fasting is choosing to fast for two days out of the week (doesn’t have to be consecutive) consuming 500-700 calories and then eating normal meals the other five days of the week.
Time-restricted eating limits food intake every day to a 6-8 hour period. So, if you ate your first meal at noon you would end the second meal by 8 pm and fast until noon the next day. This amounts to a 16-hour fasting period.
The ideal fasting regimen depends on your individual lifestyle and tolerability. Keep in mind that fasting is not for everyone and even the most suitable candidates can experience fatigue, insomnia, nausea, headaches or back pain during fasting periods. It is important to maintain good fluid and salt intake and a good balance between rest and exercise. We recommend anyone new to IF consult a trusted medical provider before starting a regimen.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Intermittent fasting cycles the body from glucose burning to fat burning, a process known as metabolic switching.
When you’re not fasting, glucose is the primary fuel used by cells and neurons. Fasting depletes the liver’s store of glucose, prompting fat cells to release fat, which travels to the liver to be converted into ketones. The ketones are then used as the energy source.
Metabolic switching between glucose and ketones is when cognition is best and degenerative diseases are kept at bay. Since inflammatory processes underpin many different neurological disorders, the ability of fasting to suppress neural and systemic inflammation may improve neuron survival in these disorders.
The psychological benefits of fasting come from the body’s ability to clear toxic materials flowing through the blood and lymphatic system. Access to cleaner bloodstream results in clearer thoughts, better memory, and increased sharpness of all senses — thanks in part to the brain benefitting from the energy the body normally would reserve for digesting food.
Does Science Support Intermittent Fasting?
As a recent paper in Nature Reviews Neuroscience put it: “Metabolic switching impacts multiple signaling pathways that promote neuroplasticity and resistance of the brain to injury and disease.”
According to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients, fasting induces an altered metabolic state that optimizes neuron bioenergetics, plasticity, and resilience in a way that may counteract a broad array of neurological disorders. In both animals and humans, fasting prevents and treats metabolic syndrome, a major risk factor for many neurological diseases.
Fasting improves cognition, stalls age-related cognitive decline, usually slows neurodegeneration, reduces brain damage and enhances functional recovery after stroke, and mitigates the pathological and clinical features of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis in animal models.
Research published in the International Journal of Research Studies in Biosciences that studied mice, suggests that IF can increase levels of certain neurotransmitters — including serotonin — and strengthen learning and memory.
With so much research pointing to important brain health benefits, it makes sense to incorporate intermittent fasting into any natural wellness plan.
Not ready for fasting? Try these natural brain supplements.
Even if you fast sometimes, you still need to make healthy food and lifestyle choices overall. When you eat is important, but what you eat matters more. If you aren’t ready to try an IF plan there are several supplements our Chief Medical Officer and Director of Education Dr. Dave Scheiderer MD, MBA, DFAPA recommends for brain health and reducing inflammation.
Cogniben™ by TriNutra restores mental alertness and supports mental cognition and focus.
FolaNAC by IP Formulas provides triple protection against memory loss.
Our IP Formulas Opti-Tox blends offer nutritional support for the body’s anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
If you have questions about any of our nutritional supplements, call us toll-free at 1-800-385-7863.
1. Research shows intermittent fasting may prevent Alzheimer’s disease; Alzheimer’s Prevention Bulletin
2. Effects of intermittent fasting on age-related changes on Na,K-ATPase activity and oxidative status induced by lipopolysaccharide in rat hippocampus; Neurobiology of Aging Volume 36, Issue 5, May 2015
3. Psychological Benefits of Fasting; Nourish by WebMD
4. Fasting as a Therapy in Neurological Disease; Nutrients. 2019 Oct