Fasting is an age old method for promoting health. It is often recommended for weight loss, detoxification and even as part of a treatment plan for chronic conditions such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Benefits of fasting are well documentedin various medical journals.


More recently, studies have researched the impact of fasting on brain health and the mechanisms of how neurons operate within the brain. The results have been very enlightening with fasting showing to have a greater beneficial impact on brain health than initially thought.



Mechanisms of fasting on the brain


When fasting, neurochemical changes occur within the brain that are similar to when a person exercises. The lack of food supply is seen by the brain as a challenge to which it issues various stress responses.


One such response is to increase the production of protein in the brain. This in turn promotes the growth of neurons, their connections between one another and the strength of nerve synapses.  


Another stress response to fasting is to stimulate the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.


More mitochondria are produced as a result of fasting. Mitochondria not only are critical catalysts in energy transfer within cells, they also increase the ability of neurons to form and strengthen connections between one another.


Fasting may also trigger the production of ketones – a fatty acid based energy source that has shown to feed the brain far more efficiently than glucose.


Benefits of fasting on the brain


Intermittent Fasting has shown to improve cognitive function, improve resistance to stress and inflammation, and increase neurotrophic factors.  Because fasting stimulates regeneration within stem cells it plays an important role in reducing the risk of neuro degeneration and the onset of chronic disease.


It is important to note that if you have any known health condition, it’s best to consult with a medical professional before attempting a fast. Also fasting is generally not recommended for pregnant or breast feeding women.


Different methods of fasting

While some detox and weight loss programs call for multiple consecutive days of fasting. Fasting to improve brain health is less intense. There are several different methods that can be tried to determine what suits you and your lifestyle best.


Fasting goes beyond simple caloric restriction in that it not only restricts the amount of calories consumed but also periods of time when they are consumed. The complete absence of food for several hours is what triggers the beneficial brain response.


One approach is the 8 hours on and 16 hours off. Generally fasting starts from 7 or 8pm in the evening and extends through to 11am or 12pm the next day. After that, eating resumes as normal until the allocated time in the evening. For many people who generally don’t eat much in the mornings, they find this approach to fasting easier to fit into their lifestyle.


Another approach is to fast for a full 24 hours once a week. While this may seem like a difficult task, those that have attempted both methods say that they find 24 hour fasting easier than 8:16 fasting. However, they still admit that it’s not easy.



Starving your body when it’s used to consistently getting food is difficult, but the brain benefits are considered by many to be well worth the effort. Certainly the studies suggest that it will not only improve cognitive function but also help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases later in life. As much as we all love food, it seems going without for a while is also incredibly good for us.

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