Does Fasting Improve Memory?

does fasting improve memory

Does fasting improve memory? It most certainly does.

Fasting has caught fire recently, but did you know that humans have been doing it since the dawn of our race? Food wasn’t always available so we went through periods of fasting from time to time.

Fasting can be especially helpful for people in their 30s, 40s and beyond, as that’s when problems like memory decline, low testosterone, and weight gain can start to occur.

Although many people do fasting to lose weight, this practice can also boost your memory, mental sharpness, and other cognitive functions. Read on as I explain all you need to know about fasting and its effects on your brain.

What is Fasting?

Fasting is a practice of abstaining from consuming any calories for a dedicated period. For example, you decide you won’t eat any food from 6 PM to 2 PM the next day – that’s a fast.

There are many types of fasting out there. From intermittent fasting, alternate-day fasting, the 5-2 fast to warrior fast.

The reason why there are so many different fasting methods is simply due to our differences. Everyone’s body reacts uniquely. Meaning one type of fasting might be great for one person, and terrible for another.

How Fasting Affects Your Memory

Fasting affects different brain pathways that are closely tied to your memory.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor

Your brain sees fasting as a challenge, so it responds to it by becoming more efficient. For example, fasting will increase your BDNF levels. BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a type of protein that stimulates new neuron growth. (2)

This is important because BDNF levels are directly correlated to how well you remember things. As we age, BDNF levels fall down, and so does our memory – this is often called ‘cognitive decline.’

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. (3)

It’s speculated that keeping your BDNF high could be the key to a sharp brain. Even into the old age. Other things besides fasting that can increase neuron growth are vigorous exercise and thinking tasks.

Brain Protection

Fasting also triggers a cellular response called autophagy. After about 19 hours or so of fasting, your body starts cleaning itself up from the inside – literally. Old cells get recycled, new ones are born. This cleanup also rids your brain of certain toxins and harmful byproducts such as free radicals, which cause oxidative stress. (4)

Oxidative stress is linked to inflammation, and inflammation is linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, among other terrible things. (5) This makes fasting a great way to protect your brain from memory loss and keep it youthful for many years to come.

Other Mental Benefits of Fasting

Alongside better memory, fasting also helps you with:

  • Mood 

If you’re new to fasting, the first few weeks can make you feel moody and irritable. But if you plow through, you’ll usually find that fasting dramatically improves how you feel. Fasting is shown to balance your blood sugar levels along with stimulating the release of endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals. Evidence also shows that fasting can potentially help to relieve depression. (1)

  • Neuronal Repair

As we saw, fasting can help keep your brain young. This is partially due to BDNF, which, as we’ve repeated, can help your brain make new neurons and even improve neuroplasticity. But it’s also partly due to the antioxidant effects of fasting, which help to clean up the body of toxins and reduce oxidative stress in the process.

  • Brain energy

Thanks to autophagy, fasting will improve your mitochondria. Mitochondria are energy factories inside your cells; they produce ATP, which is our energy currency. When your mitochondria work as they should, you’ll feel it in your mental and physical energy. (8)

There are more mental benefits of fasting; however, many of them don’t yet have enough evidence for me to include them in this article. Stay tuned though – I’ll continue to update this post as more relevant studies come out.

Anything Else to Consider?

With so many lifestyle hacks out there, it can be easy to forget about the fundamentals – diet, exercise, and sleep. A little reminder never hurts. These three things are important – so important that if they take a backseat, fasting isn’t likely to help you much. Remember that it’s all about balance. As long as you keep an overall healthy lifestyle, then things like fasting can have a profound impact on how you look, feel, and think.

Conclusion on Does Fasting Improve Memory

So there you have it; this was our comprehensive answer to your question, “does fasting improve memory?”

As you can see, yes, fasting will improve your memory. The way it achieves this is through the increase of proteins that stimulate brain cell growth, along with reducing inflammation in the brain, which helps the neurons communicate more efficiently.

Fasting is a part of a healthy lifestyle; it’s not a replacement for it. Fasting can also be hard on your adrenals. If you have any medical condition. It’s best to talk to your doctor before making any significant changes to your lifestyle.

Further reading: 6 Powerful Mental Benefits of Fasting

References
  1. Effect of caloric restriction on depression. (source)
  2. Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective. (source)
  3. A Simple Role for BDNF in Learning and Memory? (source)
  4. Autophagy: cellular and molecular mechanisms. (source)
  5. Inflammation as a central mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease. (source)

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About Valentino Muza 15 Articles
Valentino is a nutritionist, author, and health coach. He's been researching nutrition and brain health for over 5 years, and has created Valentino's Naturals to help people maximize their mental performance. When he isn't writing, Valentino loves to travel around Europe, spend time in nature, and research topics within his field of expertise. More...

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