In 2016, the Nobel Prize recognized Yoshinori Ohsumi for his pioneering work in autophagy, a cellular process triggered by starvation. The benefits of fasting on overall health are widely documented, but Dr. Ohsumi's win made the subject even more popular. Since then, more people have sought to uncover the exact mechanisms by which dietary restriction enhanced bodily functions and slowed down aging.
BDNF is known to promote neuroplasticity, boost mental performance and delay age-associated cognitive decline. Scientists found that intermittent fasting could unleash this molecule in the brain.
How does fasting ramp up BDNF? Can it truly sharpen your mind?
In this article, we talk about how fasting contributes to brain health and how you can practice it to increase your mental focus.
So first, let's discuss the molecule that makes all these things happen.
What Is BDNF?
“BDNF” is short for “brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor.”
As the name implies, growth factors are chemicals that regulate cell growth and multiplication. They also block mechanisms that lead to cell death. BDNF is found in many parts of the body but is most highly concentrated in the brain, where it is known to exert these effects:
Stimulate the growth of new neurons
BDNF stimulates synaptogenesis and makes synapses more efficient at transmitting signals. It likewise induces the growth of nerve branches called “dendrites,” which also help speed up cell signaling.
Conversely, BDNF deficiency is associated with various cognitive and psychological conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's dementia, insomnia, schizophrenia and depression. Optimal levels of this growth factor promote brain health.
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How Does BDNF Link Fasting with Brain Health?
In the first couple of hours after eating, your brain's primary fuel is the simple carbohydrate glucose. Once insulin clears up the excess glucose in your blood, the body starts to use up fat for energy. With continued fasting, your fat cells will release increasing amounts of fatty acids, which the liver will convert to ketones. Ketones will reach peak levels around 12 hours after your last meal.
We've all learned to adapt to stress. Fasting is a form of stress that stimulates BDNF secretion. This growth factor mediates the changes that let the brain adjust to the stress. However, the fasting period’s duration is critical to the timing of its induction.
“Fasting is a form of stress that stimulates BDNF secretion”
Mouse studies reveal that BDNF levels surge after 12 hours of starvation when ketones start to become the brain's primary fuel. These events correlate with adaptive neuronal changes:
BDNF levels plummet in the hypothalamus but shoot up in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
In the hypothalamus, where BDNF is low, autophagy begins. Autophagy is a cellular housekeeping mechanism that starts after long periods of fasting. Normally, it degrades and recycles different cellular structures, including microbial proteins captured when fighting an infection. It conserves resources and disrupts mechanisms that promote growth.
Autophagy eats up hypothalamic synapses during fasting. The hypothalamus is in charge of bodily functions like feeding and energy production. Synaptic autophagy in this part of the brain sends signals to the body to eat and make more ketones.
The BDNF rise in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex inhibits autophagy. Remember that the hippocampus is the seat of memory and learning. Meanwhile, the prefrontal cortex is in charge of problem-solving, judgment and motivation. By inhibiting autophagy in these areas, the animal learns to cope with the stress and develops new behaviors that will let it respond better in the future.
The Prefrontal Lobe, Hypothalamus and Hippocampus
Autophagy literally means "eating the self." Cells undergo the process to survive long periods of stress, but too much of it is also harmful. BDNF suppression balances autophagy's effects in the brain, making it resilient and primed to learn from the experience.
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What Fasting Schedules Are Best for Inducing BDNF Secretion?
There are a lot of fasting regimens being touted by different sources. However, if we go by the science, optimum fasting BDNF secretion in humans is expected to occur after 12 hours of starvation or strict caloric limitation. The ones that meet this requirement are briefly described below.
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What Other Factors Can Stimulate the Brain to Make More BDNF?
Aside from fasting, there are other ways to increase BDNF levels in the brain. They can be classified according to the mechanisms they involve.
You can get all these mental focus enhancers from a well-balanced, brain-healthy diet. Active individuals who might have suboptimal regimens and forget one or two of these components may benefit from a complete brain supplement like Brain Assist.
Even if There Were Other Ways to Draw Out BDNF, Why Should You Try Intermittent Fasting?
“The increase in clarity of mind I’ve been feeling from intermittent fasting is outstanding. And hard for me to achieve otherwise. I now do it on most of the days when I work at a computer”
As previously mentioned, intermittent fasting benefits the entire body, not just the brain. Its impact on overall health and mental performance has been demonstrated in various clinical settings.
Sugar fluctuations in the brain trigger some forms of epilepsy. Patients with such conditions have low BDNF levels in the central nervous system. Ketogenic diets enhance BDNF secretion and reduce seizure occurrences, which is why they are recommended interventions for some epilepsy syndromes.
Autism is strongly linked to BDNF deficiency, and many children with this condition are overweight. Exercise and intermittent fasting help improve their cognitive and behavioral symptoms.
Indulgent lifestyles increase the risk of developing anxiety, depression, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease—all connected to BDNF deficiency. Healthy weight ranges and fasting are associated with alleviation of symptoms in diagnosed patients.
In several clinical studies, intermittent fasting was found to be a safe and effective intervention for type 2 diabetes mellitus, with patients experiencing body weight and fasting blood glucose reduction. No acute mental changes associated with sugar fluctuations were reported in these studies.
Evidence is growing regarding the benefits and safety of intermittent fasting as a treatment for various disorders. It is one brain-boosting measure that is certainly worth a try.
Aside from the schedule, you also have to consider if intermittent fasting is safe for you. While dietary restriction benefits a lot of people, drastic caloric reduction may cause others to faint, feel dizzy or experience other side effects. If you have a medical condition, make sure to get clearance from your doctor or be under medical supervision before starting any fasting regimens.
Do Brain Supplements and Fasting Go Together?
“Brain supplements and intermittent fasting go together very well.”
Remember how excessive autophagy can be unhealthy for the brain and that BDNF can regulate it? The ability of brain supplements to induce BDNF secretion makes them powerful autophagy modulators. Taking brain supplements like Brain Assist helps you maximize the BDNF-enhancing power of intermittent fasting. Together, they make sure that you stay razor-sharp for a very long time.
Intermittent fasting impacts overall health and mental function. Its beneficial effects on the brain are mediated by BDNF, a promoter of neuronal resilience and growth. The fasting period’s duration is crucial to this molecule's secretion, as it is stimulated by glucose depletion and significant ketone formation. Once released, it suppresses autophagy, letting the brain keep stress-adaptive changes in critical regions.
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