Nutrition Series 2

Fasting and the brain (BDNF)

Fasting, brain health and BDNF

Good brain health is a state in which every individual can realize their own abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological and behavioural functioning to cope with life situations. Numerous interconnected social and biological determinants (incl. genetics) play a role in brain development and brain health from pre-conception through the end of life. These determinants influence the way our brains develop, adapt and respond to stress and adversity, giving way to strategies for both promotion and prevention across the life course.

Brain health conditions emerge throughout the life course and are characterized by disruptions in normal brain growth and/or brain functioning. They may manifest as neurodevelopmental and neurological conditions. 

This is where neuroplasticity comes into play.

At its simplest, neuroplasticity refers to the capacity that neural systems have to develop and adapt. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to be meaningfully, biologically changed by experience. The brain is made up of a dynamic network of around 86 billion neurons (!), making it the most complex machine in the universe, and its capacity to learn and adapt is both ordinary to us and taken for granted. Neuroplasticity includes our capacity to learn and remember what we need and use, as well as our capacity to forget what we don’t. Learning and adaptation occur at conscious and non-conscious levels.

Keeping our brain active, having interests and continiously learning is key for a long healthy life.

 

Is there something that we can do about keep proper brain health and avoid all the dangerous accosiated deceases that come with brain dysfunction?

Our brain's favourite protein

A protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) could be the answer to keeping us  mentally switched on for life. BDNF helps produce new brain cells and strengthen existing ones. It has many more effects that are still being researched, such as helping with depression, boosts weight loss, and protects against neurodegenerative diseases.As we get older, the levels of BDNF naturally start to fall but there are some ways to produce more BDNF and keep our brain resilient and priming it to grow stronger.Think of brain-derived neurotrophic factor as fertilizer for your brain. You have billions of neurons (aka brain cells), and BDNF keeps them flourishing and strong. When you release BDNF, it flips the switch on a series of genes that grow brand-new brain cells and pathways. BDNF also strengthens the neurons you already have. Along with keeping you mentally alert and improving memory, high BDNF carries loads of other benefits, too.

The best way for trigger BDNF is fasting.

As you know already intermittent fasting is when you eat all your daily calories during a set period of time. 

  • In one study, mice with Huntington’s disease — a neurodegenerative disorder — who were put on an intermittent fasting diet showed a slower progression of the disease than mice fed a normal diet. The fasting mice had higher levels of BDNF, suggesting that intermittent fasting can boost production of this protein, and therefore protect against brain atrophy.
  • In another study it was shown that doing a 48-hours fasting increased BDNF up-to 400%

BDNF research is gaining a lot of interest in the health and longevity space, and you can already be gain a lot of the benefits already with a daily intermittent fasting protocol. Other ways of increasing BDNF include

  • Nootropics
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Exposure to sun

Further Reading

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