During the Old Stone Age, our ancestors experienced periods of extended fasting due to limited access to food. However, in modern times, fasting has become a popular practice for various reasons, including better digestion, weight management, and religious and cultural practices. One form of fasting that has gained traction in the weight loss circles is intermittent fasting (IF). Apart from weight loss, IF has been touted for its potential health benefits. In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in understanding how intermittent fasting affects the body and mind, particularly its impact on mental well-being. In this article, we will examine the evidence and expert opinions to unravel the connection between intermittent fasting and mental health.
Intermittent fasting involves alternating between periods of eating and fasting. During the fasting period, individuals are not allowed to consume any calories, although certain types of approaches may permit the consumption of a few calories. Some common types of intermittent fasting include time-restricted eating, alternate day fasting, and the 5:2 method.
When you go for long hours without consuming calories, your body depletes its glycogen reserves and begins to utilize stored fat for energy. This process, known as metabolic switching, leads to fat burning as the body utilizes the calories from the last meal and then taps into stored fat for energy.
Researchers have recently explored the connection between intermittent fasting and mental health. Evidence suggests that IF may have cognitive advantages as we age and could potentially help reduce mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Restricting food intake may also enhance the generation of new brain cells, which could be beneficial for memory improvement.
There are two ways in which intermittent fasting can benefit mental health and cognitive function. Firstly, it increases the protein level in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Studies have shown that increased levels of BDNF reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and major depressive disorder. BDNF interacts with the neurotransmitter serotonin to augment mood and boost brain activity. Impaired signaling between these two elements can result in depression and anxiety disorders. Low levels of BDNF have been associated with various brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Secondly, intermittent fasting triggers a process called autophagy, which is a self-cleaning mechanism that helps remove internal debris and damaged proteins from cells. Autophagy is amplified during fasting periods and promotes the generation of newer and healthier cells. Issues with autophagy have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.
The benefits of intermittent fasting on mental health include improved memory, boosted mood, reduced inflammation, fighting high blood sugar levels, and lowering blood pressure at night. Studies have shown that fasting for extended periods enhances adult hippocampal neurogenesis, which improves cognition and memory. Individuals who follow intermittent fasting have reported decreased stress, irritability, confusion, and improved mood. Additionally, intermittent fasting has been linked to a reduction in chronic neuroinflammation, which is associated with various brain disorders. It also improves insulin sensitivity, which helps prevent high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, intermittent fasting helps decrease blood pressure levels during sleep, which is beneficial for heart health and brain function.
In conclusion, intermittent fasting has shown potential benefits for mental well-being. It increases the protein level in the brain, promotes cell regeneration, and reduces inflammation. However, it is important to note that further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of intermittent fasting on mental health. As with any dietary practice, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on an intermittent fasting regimen.