Fasting: Miracle-Gro for Your Brain

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 03/27/2024

Intermittent fasting and its relationship with brain health is a fascinating frontier in neuroscience and nutrition.

Learn about how intermittent fasting has been linked to significant cognitive benefits, from sharper memory to increased focus.

The Power of Fasting for Brain Health

Alternating between periods of eating and not eating, intermittent fasting has been gaining traction for its potential to improve brain health.

Understanding the Role of Protein BDNF in Brain Health

A key player in how intermittent fasting affects our brains is a protein known as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

BDNF is necessary for maintaining and forming neurons, essential for cognitive functions such as learning, memory, and higher thinking.

Studies show that intermittent fasting increases levels of this crucial protein by up to 400%. The surge stimulates neurogenesis - the growth of fresh nerve cells from stem cells in our hippocampus.

More nerve cells equate to better cognitive functions, including improved focus, concentration, and recall capacity.

How Fasting Helps Alleviate Memory Problems and Mental Fatigue

In addition to boosting BDNF production, there's another way through which intermittent fasting works wonders for your brain: it aids with waste clearance.

During extended periods without food intake or when we consume fewer calories than usual, our bodies enter into autophagy, where they start cleaning out damaged cells, leading to the regeneration of newer, healthier ones.

This process also occurs within our brains, affecting their function over time. Rodent studies demonstrate enhanced performance on memory tests after regular bouts with starvation, owing to increased rates resulting from these dietary restrictions.

This suggests potential benefits for those dealing with mild cognitive impairment and those looking to enhance mental clarity overall.

With all said and done, essentially incorporating regular intervals of abstaining from consuming any food, i.e., practicing "intermittent" fasting, could potentially improve various aspects related to directly enhancing one's cerebral capabilities.

Oxidative Stress Resistance Through Fasting

Regarding oxidative stress, we must acknowledge that this process is integral to our body's functionality. However, cellular damage can occur when levels escalate due to frequent eating or poor dietary choices, which negatively impacts brain health.

The Connection Between Frequent Eating and Oxidative Stress

Frequent food consumption often leads the body into a state where free radicals are overproduced. These unstable molecules interact harmfully with cells, causing oxidative stress.

Neurons, in particular, fall prey because they are susceptible cells with limited regenerative ability.

When we eat, our bodies generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), molecules containing oxygen that can be chemically active. Excessive ROS leads to cell oxidation, known as oxidative stress.

Insulin Levels Reduction Through Intermittent Fasting

A significant benefit of intermittent fasting is its impact on insulin levels within the human system.

When you practice intermittent fasting there is a substantial drop in insulin levels, aiding inflammation reduction while combating the effects of oxidative stress on one's brain health.

Research findings have indicated that individuals who adopt an occasional fast routine tend to exhibit lower resting insulin concentrations compared to those maintaining their regular eating pattern, thus reducing the production rate for ROS during metabolism and protecting against neuronal damage caused by excessive oxidating activity.

This also stimulates autophagy - a self-cleaning mechanism through which waste material gets recycled into new building blocks, promoting healthier functioning across all systems, including neurological ones.

Akin benefits low-carb diets like keto alongside improving memory studies involving rodents.

Neurogenesis - The Regrowth of Nerve Cells Through Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting has been linked to many health benefits, from weight loss to improved metabolic function. But did you know that it can also stimulate neurogenesis?

Let's delve into this fascinating topic.

Unraveling Neurogenesis

Neurons or nerve cells can be generated through neurogenesis in our brains.

While once believed only possible during embryonic and early postnatal development, recent studies published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience have shown that adult hippocampal neurogenesis contributes significantly to cognitive plasticity.

This finding presents exciting possibilities for those interested in improving their mental acuity through lifestyle changes such as intermittent fasting.

The Impact on Memory Function & Focus

Evidence from various research indicates that intermittent fasting increases the rate at which these fresh neurons are produced. These newly generated cells are critical in boosting memory function and focus.

A Johns Hopkins University investigation revealed that rodents exposed to periods of fasting had amplified levels of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), a protein responsible for sustaining nerve cells, as per the findings published in Molecular Neuroscience.

Beyond animal models, human studies also show encouraging results, with participants practicing religious fasts showing significant improvements in attention span and executive functions crucial for planning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Nurturing Brain Health With Intermittent Fasting

If you are intrigued about how this eating pattern could affect your brain health, scientists recommend starting slow while paying close attention to your body's signals.

Embarking on Your Intermittent Fasting Journey

The path to intermittent fasting isn't a sprint but rather a marathon. It's about gently adjusting your eating pattern over time and not abruptly eliminating meals from your daily routine.

Moving From Three Meals To One Meal A Day (OMAD)

Starting with three full meals daily without snacking in between is the initial step towards embracing an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

This approach conditions your body for longer intervals of no food intake, setting the stage for more prolonged periods of fasts down the line.

Reducing from three meals to two might seem quite challenging at first glance.

However, tuning into our accurate hunger cues and consuming fewer calories only when we're genuinely hungry makes this transition smoother as you adapt gradually.

  1. Eat less frequently: Reducing meal frequency helps condition our bodies for extended periods without food intake, priming us for successful OMAD implementation later on.

  2. Hunger awareness: Recognizing genuine physical hunger versus emotional or habitual cravings is crucial during any dietary adjustment process, such as intermittent fasting. 

  3. Nutrient-dense foods: Prioritizing nutrient-dense foods can help satiate us better than empty-calorie snacks - making sure that every calorie consumed truly counts towards nourishing our bodies properly while following an OMAD plan.

Paying Attention To Genuine Hunger Cues Is Key

Incorporating mindfulness techniques such as meditation could assist significantly in discerning these signals - taking note of how different foods affect brain health.

Scientists have discovered that mindful consumption habits significantly improve overall diet quality and promote healthier relationships with food.

As previously mentioned, comprehending the factors that influence our desire to eat, whether it stems from a genuine physiological necessity or simply a habitual or emotion-driven longing.

Benefits of Low-Carb Diets and Ketos on Brain Health

The ketogenic diet, or keto, is a low-carb and high-fat eating pattern linked to several potential health benefits. Among these are the positive effects it can have on brain health.

Fueling Your Brain with Ketones: The Science Behind It

Your brain requires energy for proper functioning. While glucose from carbohydrates typically fuels the brain under a regular eating routine, ketones become an efficient alternative when consuming fewer calories or following a ketogenic diet.

Research indicates that ketones provide steady energy for your brain, which may enhance cognitive abilities such as focus and memory. Studies involving rodents have shown promising results in this regard.

Healthy Keto foods

Keto Diet's Role in Alleviating Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) refers to reduced thinking skills and memory beyond what's expected from normal aging. Scientists often view MCI as an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and more serious conditions like dementia.

A study published in Neurobiology of Aging found significant improvements among individuals suffering from MCI after adhering to a ketogenic diet, suggesting that dietary interventions like keto could potentially help manage some aspects of MCI.


Intermittent fasting presents a promising avenue for enhancing brain health by stimulating the production of vital proteins like BDNF, promoting neurogenesis, and aiding in waste clearance processes.

Additionally, intermittent fasting helps reduce oxidative stress and insulin levels, contributing to overall brain function.

Transitioning to intermittent fasting should be approached gradually, starting with reducing meal frequency and paying attention to genuine hunger cues.

Low-carb diets like keto show potential benefits for brain health by providing steady energy in the form of ketones and potentially alleviating conditions like mild cognitive impairment.

Embracing intermittent fasting and incorporating mindful eating habits can lead to significant improvements in cognitive function and overall well-being.

Healthy Keto Guide for Beginner

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