Bioethics Blogs

Intermittent Fasting: Try This at Home for Brain Health

If you’re a regular listener to the CLB podcast, you’ll hear me, in our next episode (coming soon!) discussing the latest neuroscience research on intermittent energy restriction (IER). IER, as the name implies, involves intermittently restricting energy intake, or calories. You can do this in several ways. In one method you severely restrict calories (think 400-500 total intake per day) two to three days a week; in another you confine your food intake to an 8-hour period every day; and in yet another you fast once a week for  a 24- to 36-hour period.

Sound intriguing? Difficult? Impossible? Read on . . .

The benefits of intermittent fasting for metabolic health are already pretty well established. In non-human animal models as well as in humans, IER leads to weight loss and reduced body fat; lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate; and improves risk markers for cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This is true even when the faster’s overall calorie consumption is the same as a non-faster (because, for example, the faster consumes more calories during his non-fasting periods than he would otherwise). Just by giving yourself an occasional break from eating, then, you do your body a big favor, even if you don’t eat less overall.

But as described at a symposium held last November at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting (a summary of which is published here), it’s becoming clear that the advantages of IER are even further reaching, with enormous implications for brain health. Human and non-human animal studies have shown that IER increases synaptic plasticity (a biological marker of learning and memory), enhances performance on memory tests in the eldery, leads to the growth of new neurons, promotes recovery after stroke or traumatic brain injury, decreases risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and may improve quality of life and cognitive function for those already diagnosed with these diseases.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.