The first thing that people think of when you bring up caloric restriction and fasting is cutting down on body fat and losing weight, not brain health.
But it’s true, new science has discovered that there is a link between restricting your daily caloric intake and skipping some meals can help you lead a healthy life for longer.
It’s important to note that there is no evidence that proves that these diet routines can help you live a longer life, but there is data that states it lengthens the period of life spent in good health by reducing the risk of diseases common in old age.
While religion has long maintained that fasting has positive effects on both body and soul, it was not widely recognized until the early 1900s when doctors began suggesting it to treat various disorders such as obesity, epilepsy, and diabetes.
In the 1930s, nutritionist Clive McCay discovered that rats who were subject to stringent caloric restriction from an early age lived longer and were less likely to develop cancer and other age-related illnesses than rats who ate as they pleased.
In 1945, research into intermittent fasting conducted by University of Chicago scientists discovered that rats who fasted lived longer and the fasting delayed the onset of disorders that led to death.
Caloric Restriction And Intermittent Fasting Today
More recently however, Mark Mattson head of the National Institute of Aging’s neuroscience laboratory has championed the idea that intermittent fasting and caloric restriction lowers the risk of degenerative brain diseases later in life.
His studies have found that intermittent fasting protects neurons against various kinds of damaging stress in rodents. He also found that alternate-day feeding in rodents made them resistant to toxins that induce cellular damage like the kind they endure as they age.
In follow up rodent studies, Mattson’s group found that intermittent fasting protects against stroke damage, suppresses motor deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, and slow cognitive decline in mice genetically engineered to display Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Mattson believes that these diet changes work to protect your brain because it forces your body into a state of mild stress, which induces cellular defences against molecular damage. Occasional fasting has been found to increase the levels of ‘chaperone’ proteins which prevent incorrect assembly of other molecules in the cell.
The study additionally found that fasting mice have higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that prevents stressed neurons from dying. Low levels of BDNF has been linked with multiple illness from depression to Alzheimer’s.
Fasting also boosts autophagy, a process in which cells dispose of damaged molecules including ones that were linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases.
Another one of the benefits of these diet processes seems to be increasing the body’s responsiveness to insulin. A decreased sensitivity to insulin often accompanies obesity and has been linked to diabetes and heart failure. Animals and humans who live long lives have unusually low insulin levels, possibly because their cells need less of it.
Inflammation has also been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and by fasting intermittently or by reducing your daily caloric intake, you can fight inflammation as well. Inflammation is a contributing factor to many different ailments and diseases from Alzheimer’s to heart attacks.
The benefits of caloric restriction and intermittent fasting are great motivators to adopt this lifestyle, or at the very least give it a try. Short term effects are not as extensive, but the long term results make this lifestyle trend something we are willing to get behind.