The brain is a wonderful thing. It can help recall joyful memories from our childhoods, yet our noggins are also fabulous at performing functions we don’t even have to think about, such as digestion and breathing. So keeping our brain and nervous system healthy is vital to the overall operation of our bodies.
Although some neurological disorders are hereditary, there are things we can do to keep our minds sharp and our nervous system in tip-top shape, and fasting can help. So whether you’re experiencing early stages of forgetfulness or are trying to stave off hereditary disease, here is how fasting can help with neurological problems.
What is the neurological system?
The neurological system consists of the brain and spinal cord, which are the central nervous system’s main two components. However, the smaller nerves that branch off of the spinal cord are called the peripheral nervous system. These delicate nerves go to all parts of the human body and perform more external functions, such as detecting pain in the foot when stepping on a Lego, and more internal purposes, such as keeping our heart pumping in rhythm.
Essentially, the nervous system keeps the body in balance. It controls reflexes, maintains the memory, and helps us move as it works in tandem with other systems in the body. As we age, keeping our nervous system functioning at its best is critical.
How does fasting help the neurological system?
Although most folks use intermittent fasting for weight loss and supplement a workout routine, more recent studies show many benefits beyond shaping our bodies. For example, when not consuming, breaking down, digesting, and distributing nutrients, the body can concentrate on other essential functions.
Autophagy—the process of cellular recycling so that the body can help repair itself—is one example of what the body can focus on while intermittent fasting. Discovering the neurological benefits is relatively new. However, the facts and studies are something that can’t be ignored.
What are the most well-known and studied neurological disorders?
Unfortunately, there are quite a few nervous system disorders ranging from mild and tolerable to ones that significantly impair movement and memory. Many individuals are impacted by neurological issues, some of which come on suddenly. However, several disorders are more common than others.
Although early-onset Alzheimer’s can impact younger folks, most of those who suffer from the disease are over 65. In addition, two-thirds of those diagnosed are women, and memory is affected first, with motor functions not significantly impaired until the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
This disease affects motor abilities by causing the death of cells that control muscle movement. As a result, those who have Parkinson’s can experience tremors and an unsteady gait. Whether Parkinson’s is hereditary or spontaneous is a mystery, although great strides are happening in understanding this disease.
A stroke occurs when blood flow is quickly cut off from the brain, limiting the oxygen and nutrients necessary for the brain to function correctly. Cells die quickly without oxygen, and strokes can occur suddenly. A stroke can impact the movement and thought processes of those who have experienced one.
Either viral (more common) or bacterial (rare), meningitis happens when the membranes surrounding the central nervous system become inflamed. Bacterial meningitis can often be reversed with proper treatment, although there may be some lingering effects. Bacterial meningitis can be fatal, although there are a few vaccinations available.
Otherwise known as MS, multiple sclerosis is a disease where the body seemingly works against itself by attacking its own systems. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and MS is a long-lasting, chronic condition for those who suffer.
Most everyone gets headaches every once in a while, and they can be due to tension, stress, or lack of sleep. Other headaches, such as migraines, are more chronic and severe and are often treated by preventing the pain instead of treating migraines once they are happening. Sufferers are often encouraged to change their diets, take vitamins, and make lifestyle changes to decrease the likelihood of getting a migraine.
Nervous System Injury
While the previously mentioned nervous system issues are diseases and can be lessened or prevented with lifestyle changes, neurological injuries occur due to a negative occurrence, such as a fall or car accident. Of course, these aren’t hereditary and are due to an instance that tears, bruises, or otherwise impairs the neurological system. The recovery rate depends on the extent of the injuries. Everything from a temporary concussion to total paralysis can result from these harmful occurrences.
Here’s What We Know Now:
Studies show fasting can lessen neurological disorders.
One study in late 2019 supports the fact that fasting can help the nervous system when tested on animals. “Fasting improves cognition, stalls age-related cognitive decline, usually slows neurodegeneration, reduces brain damage and enhances functional recovery after stroke, and mitigates the pathological and clinical features of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis in animal models,” the study states. The study was conducted by New Zealand neurologist Matthew Phillips, who has previously done studies on how food intake affects Parkinson’s disease.
Although not many human trials have been conducted, the findings in the 2019 study concerning animals caused scientists to forge ahead. “Fasting induces an altered metabolic state that optimizes neuron bioenergetics, plasticity, and resilience in a way that may counteract a broad array of neurological disorders,” the study claims. “In both animals and humans, fasting prevents and treats the metabolic syndrome, a major risk factor for many neurological diseases.” These statements offer great hope for those with disorders of the nervous system.
Also, where animals were concerned, it was noted that intermittent fasting aided in preventing tumors, lessening tumors that were already present, and helping the body’s response to chemotherapy treatments. Thus, there is the potential for the same results concerning cancer in humans, and there is hope for other positive outcomes on the horizon.
“Fasting improves cognition, stalls age-related cognitive decline, usually slows neurodegeneration, reduces brain damage and enhances functional recovery after stroke, and mitigates the pathological and clinical features of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis in animal models,” states the study.
However, future research may prove otherwise, which means a brighter future. “Given the strength of the animal evidence, many exciting discoveries may lie ahead, awaiting future investigations into the viability of fasting as a therapy in neurological disease.
What Else Do We Know?
Intermittent fasting has ancient origins.
Beyond staving off neurological disorders, intermittent fasting can help your brain function better. Neuroscience professor Mark Mattson offers the idea that the body’s reaction to fasting has early origins. Long ago, when people had to forage for food—often while hungry—they experienced heightened brain function that enabled them to search for food effectively. Here are a few studies to further prove the case for improved brain function.
Fasting helps overall positive brain function.
A 2005 study on lions in captivity—who tend to be obese and inactive—forced lions to gorge and then fast as they would in the wild. Not only did their digestion and metabolism improve, but they also seemed to be happier. “Lions also showed an increase in appetitive active behaviors, no increase in agonistic behavior, and paced half as frequently on fast days as on feeding days,” states the study. “Thus, switching captive lions to a gorge and fast feeding schedule resulted in improved nutritional status and increased activity.”
Practicing intermittent fasting can enhance brain cell growth.
A three-month study on mice showed that fasting could aid the brain in manufacturing more brain cells. Although the survey results are highly scientific, the overall effect was that cell production was elevated in the rodents.
Periodic fasting can help control seizures.
In 2012, a study was conducted to mimic intermittent fasting combined with the ketogenic diet (KD) as an ancient remedy for epilepsy. “We implemented an intermittent fasting regimen in six children with an incomplete response to a KD,” the study states. “Three patients adhered to the combined intermittent fasting/KD regimen for two months, and four had transient improvement in seizure control, albeit with some hunger-related adverse reactions.”
Intermittent fasting can secure a good night’s sleep.
Intermittent fasting can also enhance sleep, which is what a 2003 study showed. “Compared to baseline, a significant decrease in arousals, a decrease in periodic leg movements (PLM), and a non-significant increase in REM sleep were observed at the end of fasting,” the study claims. “Subjective sleep ratings showed a fasting-induced increase in global quality of sleep, daytime concentration, vigor, and emotional balance.” Of course, adequate rest helps the body in many ways.
Neurosurgeons are catching on to the positive effects.
In his book on boosting performance and enhancing creativity, Dr. Rahul Jandial sings the praises of periodic fasting on the brain. Jandial’s book states that intermittent fasting “will actually improve cognition, grow the connections between neurons, and stave off neurodegeneration.” So trading off slight hunger pangs for brain-boosting benefits helps the body head in the right direction.
Finally. no matter your original reason for starting intermittent fasting, the evidence clarifies that new benefits are being discovered. Whether you want to lose weight, have a healthier lifestyle, or improve your brain function, periodic fasting can help. Not only will you look and feel better, but allowing your body to rest and perform non-food-related functions is better for your health—and your nervous system—in the long run.