As a high-performing professional, you’re likely no stranger to the concept of maximizing your productivity and staying sharp. But have you considered the impact of your diet on your brain health?
Despite only making up 2% of your body weight, the adult human brain is a highly demanding organ, consuming roughly 20% of the body’s glucose-derived energy. It communicates with other organs in your body via the autonomic nervous system and is responsible for every process vital to life.
But did you know that your lifestyle and diet can significantly affect the rate at which your brain ages? Studies have shown that protein misfolding is a recurrent cause of many neurodegenerative diseases, which may be mitigated by intermittent fasting. By removing damaged and misfolded proteins that build up, intermittent fasting can slow brain aging and enhance brain health.
In this article, we’ll explore the science behind the relationship between intermittent fasting and brain health.
Intermittent Fasting: The Basics
Intermittent fasting, also known as time-restricted eating, is a dietary approach that involves periods of fasting and eating.
During the fasting period, one abstains from consuming food or drinks containing calories. There are various types of intermittent fasting, such as alternate-day fasting, periodic fasting, and daily time-restricted feeding.
- Alternate-day fasting refers to a full day when you eat nothing, followed by a day when you consume food.
- On an intermittent fasting 5/2 plan, you follow your regular eating habits for five days each week, and for the remaining two days, limit your caloric intake to 500-600 calories, consumed in one sitting. During these two days, it’s important to avoid high-calorie, low-density, and processed foods.
However, many people prefer shorter intraday fasts:
- Intermittent fasting 16/8 is a standard intermittent fasting model which entails fasting 16 hours a day and eating 8 hours a day. This fasting mode is popular because it’s shorter and less intense than fasting for 24 hours or longer.
4 Ways Intermittent Fasting May Enhance Brain Function
Several studies show that intermittent fasting is an effective way to lose weight. But research has also demonstrated potential benefits of intermittent fasting on brain health.
Here are some ways in which intermittent fasting improves brain function:
1. Lowers blood pressure
Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce blood pressure, which can help protect against heart disease and lower the risk of brain-damaging events like strokes. This effect may be due to changes in the gut microbiome, which plays an important role in the gut-brain connection. Millions of nerves, including the vagus nerve, connect the gut and brain. The enteric nervous system, also known as the “second brain,” is a system of nerves found in the gut lining. Your gut health affects more than just digestion. These microbes and bacteria affect overall health and control inflammation. Thus, taking care of your gut health can positively impact both your brain and body.
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2. Improves insulin sensitivity
Intermittent fasting also enhances insulin sensitivity, leading to better management of blood sugar levels and body weight. Researchers discovered that high blood sugar levels can cause the hippocampus, the region of the brain that governs memory and cognition, to shrink with age. Intermittent fasting may help prevent brain aging by addressing this issue. In fact, a study published in Neurology found a link between high blood sugar levels and hippocampal shrinkage.
3. Improves mental health
Intermittent fasting may improve mental health by enhancing the brain’s ability to clear misfolded proteins, which can lower the risk of mental health problems. Reduced autophagy, a process that removes old cells and proteins, is linked to some psychiatric disorders, including depression and schizophrenia. Intermittent fasting promotes autophagy, allowing new and healthy cells to regenerate while removing damaged cells. A study found that people who fast reported a decrease in anger, tension, and aggressive feelings.
4. Lowers the risk of obesity
Intermittent fasting can help lower the risk of weight gain and obesity, which can have negative effects on the brain. According to a 2020 study, obesity can reduce brain function and increase the risk of dementia. Additionally, excess body fat triggers inflammation that can damage brain tissue. Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve brain health. Therefore, by managing your weight through intermittent fasting, you can lower the risk of developing brain diseases.
The Bottom Line
Intermittent fasting is an emerging, potentially promising way to improve brain health and prevent various health problems. By restricting your eating window, you can reduce your calorie intake and potentially improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and better manage your weight to reduce the risk of certain health issues. These benefits may help reduce the risk of brain-damaging events and diseases such as dementia. However, before starting any new diet, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if it’s appropriate for you.
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