Intermittent Fasting and Brain Health

Conventional wisdom, especially in the realm of diet and health, often turns out not to be right.

Conventional wisdom (as it happens, heavily subsidized by grants from the Kellogg Foundation) has argued that “breakfast is the most important meal” and “fasting diets are unhealthy.”

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Casazza in 2013 suggested that the value of breakfast is a presumption that has very weak research support. And similarly suggested that the supposed negative effects of “yo-yo” or extreme diets was also not supported in the literature.

Now researchers are suggesting that, far from a part of a health diet, regular small meals, including breakfast, may actually be harmful to the health.

Mark Mattson, Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, has been studying ways of reducing the risk of dementia, both in animal models and in humans.

He argues that fasting may be good for the brain.

It has long been known that laboratory animals live longer if they are on restricted diets, but he suggests that intermittent fasting (fasting for 16 hours of the day) may also reduce the negative effects of aging.

He argues that ketosis (which is the state that the body enters when fasting) is good for the brain, and fasting also increases the brain’s growth factor (BDNF) and increases brain bioenergetics (mitochondria increase) and increases your brain’s ability to repair DNA.

Dr. Mattson is convinced, and is reported in the New York Times, to have not eaten breakfast for 35 years, eating all of his 2000 calories in the late afternoon and evening.

Dr. Mattson has also been studying the 5:2 diet -eating an unrestricted amount five days of the week and then eating a severely calorie limited diet (500 calories a day) for two of the days of the week – and have found that this diet also has beneficial effects on brain function and health.

Dr. Valter Longo at the University of Southern California, has found that the 5:2 diet reduces insulin levels and IGF-1 levels and may put cells into a “slow aging” mode.

For More Information

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Mattson MP, Allison DB, Fontana L, Harvie M, Longo VD, Malaisse WJ, Mosley M, Notterpek L, Ravussin E, Scheer FA, Seyfried TN, Varady KA, Panda S. Meal frequency and timing in health and disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Nov 25;111(47):16647-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1413965111. Epub 2014 Nov 17. PubMed PMID: 25404320; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4250148.

Barnosky AR, Hoddy KK, Unterman TG, Varady KA. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Transl Res. 2014 Oct;164(4):302-11. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013. Epub 2014 Jun 12. Review. PubMed PMID: 24993615.