I’ve caught the “Intermittent Fasting” craze, and I love it.
Research has shown for decades that fasting is good for the brain. At a minimum, you should be fasting for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast the next day. However, longer periods of fasting – 16 to 24 hours – also show benefit. Let’s give the details first. Here’s a way to do it:
- Day 1: Finish your last meal of the day at 8 p.m.
- Day 2: Don’t eat lunch until 12 p.m. (16 hours later). Eat every 2 or 3 hours between 12-8 p.m. Finish your last meal of the day at 8 p.m.
- Day 3: Don’t eat lunch until 12 p.m. (16 hours later). Eat every 2 or 3 hours between 12-8 p.m. Finish your last meal of the day at 8 p.m.
- Day 4: Eat breakfast around 8 a.m. Resume your normal routine until next week – when you do a second round.
This provides you two days of ‘Intermittent Fasting.’
Some people do intermittent fasting for 1 week per month. Other people do one 24 hour day of fasting per week. Others do 5 days of eating normally, and 2 days of eating 500 calories each week. All have health benefits. You get to figure out which works best with your body.
Expert level Intermittent fasting
If you want to kick it up a notch, limit the foods that you’re eating on days 2 and 3 to meat and vegetables only.
- Meat should be low fat (so you burn your own fat).
- Vegetables should be low carb. If you’re having salad, reduce the oil in the salad dressing. Use vinegar only if you can stand it.
- Fruits should be low sugar – apples and berries only.
- No alcohol on this plan. Alcohol is sugar.
- No dairy either. If you need a splash of cream in your coffee, ok. But no cheese on the burger.
Want to Read more?
Here are some resources on Intermittent Fasting that are ‘readable.’
The deep cuts – the research
Now the research. As you can imagine, intermittent fasting is the equivalent of calorie restriction in some ways. So there is a large body of literature that shows it’s good for your blood glucose and weight loss.1 However, the mechanism for how calorie restriction affects cells has extensively studied. In particular, it affects mitochondrial function, oxidative stress, and inflammation, among other things.2,3 Since these are processes that are involved in many diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, intermittent fasting may help these diseases.
Animal studies show that intermittent fasting or alternate day fasting can increase neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and neuroprotection.2,4 Many more animal studies show that it can improve memory.5,6
Calorie restriction has been proposed as a therapy that might help Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease for more than twenty years, however, no clinical trials have been done. It doesn’t mean you can’t try it. I know that my cognitive function improves when I fast – which is one of the main reasons I do it. I say to my friends, “My brain feels so good!”
- Collier R. Intermittent fasting: the science of going without. CMAJ. 2013;185(9). doi:10.1503/cmaj.109-4451.
- Wahl D, Cogger VC, Solon-Biet SM, et al. Nutritional strategies to optimise cognitive function in the aging brain. Ageing Res Rev. 2016;31:80-92. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2016.06.006.
- Longo VD, Mattson MP. Fasting: Molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell Metab. 2014;19(2):181-192. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2013.12.008.
- Martin B, Mattson MP, Maudsley S. Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: Two potential diets for successful brain aging. Ageing Res Rev. 2006;5(3):332-353. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2006.04.002.
- Li L, Wang Z, Zuo Z. Chronic Intermittent Fasting Improves Cognitive Functions and Brain Structures in Mice. PLoS One. 2013;8(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066069.
- Vasconcelos AR, Yshii LM, Viel T a, et al. Intermittent fasting attenuates lipopolysaccharide-induced neuroinflammation and memory impairment. J Neuroinflammation. 2014;11(1):85. doi:10.1186/1742-2094-11-85.