By Brian James Rose
It is a fact that brainpower declines with age! The structure and function of the brain are affected by age. Brain shrinkage is a notable change mainly seen in the hippocampus leading to various symptoms of dementia. The myelin sheath that protects the nerves also wears down with age resulting in a decreased speed of transmission of impulses between the neurons. The functioning of receptors on the neurons is also affected by age. All these changes have impacts on brainpower, reducing its ability to encode new information (learning) or to retrieve already stored information (memory). Brainpower varies from person to person. With the concept of neuroplasticity (brain changes itself), researchers and scientists believe that it is in our control how our brains behave as we age. Some individuals start to have cognitive decline and memory problems after middle age while others manage to have the same cognition and other brain functions as they have in their youth. Many factors control brain power, but in this article, we will focus on the role of how fasting in improving brain power.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is the wilful abstinence from eating for a specified period. In many regions, fasting is a holy ritual, and now because of so many proven benefits of fasting, it is becoming a trend to use for health benefits. You might have come across the term intermittent fasting, which is a pattern cycling between periods of fasting and eating. There are many types of fasting, for example, 16:8, 5:2, or 24 hours fast. Whatever the type, fasting has benefits on overall health and the brain. The aim of fasting is to restrict nutrition, mainly to deplete the glucose stores of the body, so the body utilizes stored components like glycogen and fats to fuel the brain and body. The products produced by the metabolism of fats and glycogen that are utilized for energy mainly play a role in boosting brainpower.
Role of Fasting in Improving Brain Power
The body uses glucose as the primary source of energy for the cells, including brain neurons in a fed state. In a fasting state, the glucose, which is normally available from a food is restricted, the body shifts its energy production mechanisms from utilizing glucose alternates. Fasting can induce a healthy type of stress in the body. After 12 to 16 hours of fasting, the body mobilizes stored fats for energy production. Fats are metabolized to give ketone bodies which are used as fuel in a fasting state. After about six hours of fasting, the body releases human growth hormone (HGH) that forces the body to metabolize fats for energy production over protein metabolism. Thus, the proteins can be used for cellular repair and improving the functioning of brain cells. HGH is also known to upregulate the process of autophagy and reduce inflammation.
Fasting also stimulates the release of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which plays a vital role in memory, learning, and the generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus part of the brain. BDNF is released by the production of ketone bodies because of fat metabolism in a fasting state. BDNF strengthens the synapse, promotes the production of new neurons from stem cells, and increases the synaptic connections between neurons. According to research, a reduction in levels of BDNF is seen in Alzheimer’s disease. BDNF also prompts to increase in the number of mitochondria in brain cells. Dysfunction or deficit in brain (neuron) mitochondria is linked with neurodegeneration. The increase in the number of mitochondria in neurons boosts their ability to form and maintain synaptic connections, thereby enhancing brainpower. Various studies suggest that intermittent fasting can increase the levels of BDNF by 50 to 400 percent.
Anti-Inflammatory Response of Fasting for Enhancing Brain Power
Inflammation is the root cause of many health problems. In disorders like Alzheimer’s, dementia, obesity, diabetes, and many other disorders, inflammation can be the underlying cause. Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation in the body cells mainly by autophagy in which the damaged cells and cellular components are degraded and removed from the body. It is a process of self-cleaning used by the body to reduce inflammatory triggers. In a fasting state, the neurons are in a state of ‘stress resistance and resource conservation.’ After the fasting period ends and a person eats, the neurons in the brain switch to the ‘growth mode,’ making new proteins and synapses optimizing a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. It enhances the learning capacity, memory, and stress resistance of the brain. Autophagy also reduces oxidative stress, which speeds up the aging process leading to premature aging symptoms of cognitive decline. So reducing oxidative stress will ultimately delay age-related changes in the brain. Ketone bodies (beta-hydroxybutyrate) that are produced as a result of fat metabolism have neuroprotective effects and reduce the risks of developing or improving the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Improved Blood Sugar Control
Diabetes or high blood sugar is also a known risk factor for many neurological disorders, including dementia. High blood sugar also causes shrinkage of the brain. Fasting improves the control of blood glucose levels by increasing insulin sensitivity. In fasting states, glucose in the body is already utilized before the body switches to alternative energy-producing mechanisms. Although the brain uses glucose as a primary source of energy, too much glucose impairs its functional capacity by atrophy or affects the brain’s blood supply. Research studies suggest that most patients with neurological diseases (dementia) also have diabetes.
Fasting not only enhances brainpower but also improves the overall health of an individual. Fasting enhances brainpower and protects the brain from premature functional decline. In the process of neurogenesis, neuroplasticity is increased that improves learning and memory. Fasting makes the brain more resilient to stress and adaptable to changes. Thus, to prevent age-related cognitive decline, neuroprotective effect, and boosting brain power, fasting plays an important role in achieving all these, only by restricting yourself from eating for a few hours.