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Intermittent Fasting Fad and Its Impact on Nerve Health

“The brain is a hybrid vehicle and is in optimal function when it switches between sugar and fat as its fuel, the easiest way to achieve this is with intermittent fasting.”

Mitali Gautam | New Delhi |

Any time during the day, when we willfully restrain from routine eating or sometimes drinking — is called fasting. Intermittent fasting fad is common these days as it has proven benefits for mental and physical health.

Associate professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at Los Angeles-based City of Hope National Medical Center, Jandial, MD, says that “The brain is a hybrid vehicle and is in optimal function when it switches between sugar and fat as its fuel, the easiest way to achieve this is with intermittent fasting.”

Ayurveda on Intermittent Fasting

We all know in our busy and stressful life we are eating much more than what our body requires. According to the Ayurveda, there should be an eight-hour gap between our meals so our body gets the required time to digest the food properly.  Almost fifty percent of health-related issues start from what we eat and the manner in which we eat. To solve such ailments Ayurveda suggests fasting.

In a physiological context, “fasting” helps attain the metabolic state of complete absorption and digestion of meals equal to the morning waking state, where a person has not eaten overnight.

Scientific Research on Intermittent Fasting

Fasting in India on special occasions is a centuries-old tradition, it has remained part of many religious practices as well. But many people have been using it for spiritual growth as well, as it is said to purify the body and mind and acquire a state of bliss.

However, many people had called it unscientific and illogical until the work of Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize for research on Cell Aging in 2016:  ‘Fasting for Health and Longevity,  and how cells recycle and renew their content, a process called autophagy.

After this scientific research, many people across the world started doing intermittent fasting.

Fasting can Optimize Brain Functioning

Fasting not only helps in managing our weight-related issues but helps improve our brain power. Eating throughout the day reduces the performance of our brain as most of the energy gets consumed in the process of digestion.

According to Benjamin Horne, Ph.D., and a clinical associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford University, if we go without eating for as little as 12 hours the body begins to make changes to conserve energy and operate more efficiently. It is very good for the brain as fasting is a challenge to the brain. The brain responds to this challenge of not having food by activating the adaptive stress response pathway that helps the brain to cope with stress and resist diseases. When you are hungry the brain nerves get active making your brain work more efficiently.

These changes which we see during intermittent fasting are similar to the change that our brain experiences during vigorous exercise. Exercise and intermittent fasting both increase the production of proteins in the brain that is called neurotrophic factors that promotes the growth of neurons making our brain.

Not only for the brain intermittent fasting is good for overall health. During the periods of fasting our stomach gets the time away from the food helps in excluding the impurities from it.

Body’s  energy source  switches from Sugar/glucose to Fat during fasting

As the body’s energy source like glucose and sugar goes empty, it has no other option to make energy but from fats that are stored in the body. So it starts burning the fat and producing chemical byproducts called ketones. These Ketones circulate throughout the body, dampening inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, and feeding the brain.

The article ‘Behind the Intermittent Fasting Fad‘, published by WebMD, explains how iIntermittent fasting helps our nerve health. During fasting Blood levels of sodium and a compound called TMAO (implicated in heart disease) plummet, while red blood cell counts rise, providing a boost for heart health. And levels of a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein essential for maintaining healthy neurons, spike.”

“Meanwhile, the cells move from building mode to rest and repair mode, cleaning up and fixing faulty mitochondria (the energy-producing furnaces of the cell), and reducing oxidative stress (the cell damage that makes tissue age).”

Intermediate fasting and longevity

The senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, Division of the US National Institutes of Health, Mark Mattson has researched the impacts of intermittent fasting on overall health, the cardiovascular system, and the brain in rodents. He has also conducted “well-controlled human studies” on people “across a range of body mass indexes” and got the same results on the human body. His investigation conveyed that fasting can reduce symptoms of Arthritis, Stress, migraines, and high blood pressure. To attain these benefits one must take it into consideration carefully or may be under the guidance of a professional health care provider.

During intermittent fasting, one needs to follow a specific eating pattern during which one must refrain from consuming any calories for an extended period of time. Usually, this period lasts between 12 and 40 hours. However, Water, coffee, and other calorie-free beverages are allowed during the fast, but no solid foods or calorie-containing drinks are permitted.

There are multiple ways and eating patterns that one can choose as per their desired outcomes and health conditions. A few of the methods are listed below:

Here are 5 of the most popular eating patterns for adding intermittent fasting to your diet:

  • Time-restricted eating:  Involves fasting every day for 12 hours or longer and eating in the remaining hours. A popular example is the 16/8 method. It features a daily 16-hour fast and an 8-hour eating window wherein you can fit in 2, 3, or more meals.
  • The 5:2 diet: The 5:2 diet involves eating as you normally do 5 days of the week and restricting your calorie intake to 500–600 on the remaining 2 days.
  • Eat Stop Eat: Eat Stop Eat involves a 24-hour fast once or twice per week.
    Alternate-day fasting. With alternate-day fasting, the goal is to fast every other day.
  • The Warrior Diet:  The Warrior Diet was among the first popular diets to include a form of intermittent fasting. It involves eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and eating one large meal at night.

Here are some cons of Intermittent fasting

Intermittent Fasting Can Still Lead to Weight Gain

If you are having trouble maintaining your hunger and end up going completely rogue on your non-fasting periods, you could end up gaining weight.
Going rouge during your non-fasting periods can undermine your health goals, start a meal prep routine or plan your meals to ensure you’re nourishing your body.

Skipping Meals Can Cause Headaches, Dizziness, and Nausea

Long periods of fasting can lower your blood sugar levels and leave you feeling lightheaded, dizzy, with headaches, and/or nausea. If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe to try intermittent fasting.

It can be hard to stick with a long-term diet plan. The prolonged period of zero-calorie consumption can be difficult to stick with long-term due to low energy, cravings, habits, and the discipline required to stick to the specific time frames surrounding your periods of intermittent fasting which finally makes you gain weight.