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.
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
Autophagy 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.
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.
Increased 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.