Fasting may help combat brain aging and disease

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Recent research published in the journal Medicina has unveiled potential benefits of intermittent fasting and Ramadan fasting on brain health.

This study is particularly relevant as it comes at a time when millions of Muslims around the world prepare for Ramadan, a month dedicated to fasting from dawn until dusk.

Intermittent fasting, a practice that alternates between periods of eating and fasting, has been shown to have varying effects on brain health, specifically in relation to a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF is crucial for the health of neurons, the cells responsible for transmitting information throughout the brain and body. Low levels of BDNF are linked to several neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease.

The study, a comprehensive review of research conducted between January 2000 and December 2023, aimed to understand how intermittent fasting and calorie restriction might influence BDNF levels and, consequently, cognitive functions in humans.

The findings indicated mixed results; some studies showed that intermittent fasting could increase BDNF levels and improve cognitive functions, while others found no significant changes or even a decrease in BDNF levels.

Despite the mixed outcomes, the researchers highlight the critical role of BDNF in supporting brain function, promoting the growth of new neurons, and enhancing the strength of synaptic connections, which are essential for learning and memory.

They also noted that fasting has been proposed as a potential therapy for neurological disorders, given its ability to improve cognition, slow down neurodegeneration, and reduce brain damage in animal models.

The study looked at various fasting regimens, including alternate-day fasting, time-restricted eating, and the Ramadan model of intermittent fasting.

It found that the effects of fasting on BDNF levels could vary significantly among individuals, depending on their health status and specific fasting regimen.

Professor MoezAlIslam Faris, the study’s lead author, emphasizes the importance of fasting in maintaining brain health and reducing the risk of age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

He acknowledges the diverse results of the study but points out its significance as the first systematic review to summarize the impact of different fasting practices on BDNF levels and mental health.

According to Prof. Faris, intermittent fasting could serve as a preventive strategy or even a curative intervention for mental health issues and age-related brain diseases.

He suggests that health care providers might consider recommending intermittent fasting and calorie restriction as part of a holistic approach to improve mental health and cognitive functions.

This study not only sheds light on the potential cognitive benefits of fasting but also encourages further exploration into dietary practices as simple, cost-effective ways to enhance brain health and prevent neurological diseases.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Omega-3 fats and carotenoid supplements could improve memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and higher magnesium intake could help benefit brain health.

The research findings can be found in Medicina.

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