3 Ways on How Intermittent Fasting Boosts Cognitive Functions

By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018

Medical Review by Dr. Vlad Belghiru, MD

There are some impressive benefits that can be achieved with short-term (intermittent) fasting.

Such as; improved insulin sensitivity, increased androgen sensitivity, better food control, and significantly increased 24-hour growth hormone levels.

One of the less discussed benefits of IF is its ability to improve cognitive functions naturally and for - well - free.

Here are three research-backed mechanisms on how it happens:

#1. Increased Autophagy

intermittent fasting autophagy brain boostAutophagy is am adaptive response to short-term stress. It's a natural destructive mechanism within the cells.

When you do intermittent fasting, the rate of autophagy within the brain cells is significantly increased.

What this means is that your body basically eats up the weakest cells to provide energy for the growth and maintenance of the healthier, stronger cells.

Autophagy sounds bad, but it's really a healthy recycling mechanism where the body repairs itself using the weak and degraded cells as fuel.

This increased neuronal autophagy triggered by intermittent fasting has been shown to improve cognitive functions in rodents who have very similar brain structure as humans do.

#2. Reduced Brain Oxidative Damage

Oxidative stress and damage takes place when increased amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced in the body and the antioxidant systems can't properly deactivate them.

intermittent fasting reduces oxidative damage improves brain healthOne of the main causes of cognitive decline and "brain fog" has been theorized and somewhat proven to be overall oxidative stress and damage to the brain cells.

There are certain factors that increase ROS production, like stress, increased consumption of polyunsaturated fatty-acids, smoking, being obese, and micronutrient deficiencies.

On the flip-side, the production of reactive oxygen species along with oxidative damage can be prevented by exercise, maintaining low body fat, increased intake of wholesome antioxidant and micronutrient-dense foods, and by reducing the intake of polyunsaturated fats...

...And by doing intermittent fasting, which has been shown to improve cognition by significantly reducing the amount of oxidative damage and stress within the brain of animals and humans.

#3. Increased BDNF Levels

Brain-derived neurothropic factor (BDNF) is a naturally occurring protein in the human body that contains a gene which triggers the growth of neurons in the hippocampus.

intermittent fasting increase bdnf memory and learningIncreased BDNF levels have been linked to improved learning and memory processing through increased synaptic activity and neuroplasticity.

Interestingly enough, at least in rodents, calorie restriction and short-term fasting have been found to significantly increase the levels of BDNF.

The mechanism isn't fully known, but one theory says that it would be a survival mechanism to improve our ability to find food in times of starvation.

Using intermittent fasting to trigger the growth of BDNF, without actually starving to death, would be a great way to get a noticeable cognitive boost.

Ali Kuoppala

Ali Kuoppala is the founder of Anabolic Men. He has authored and co-authored multiple men's health books and focuses on uncovering the methods of optimizing hormonal health. To date, his articles on various websites have been read more than 15-million times. To read more about Ali, visit his Medium article.