Fasting is Feasting (for the Brain): Part I
Fasting is one of the best things you can do for mental enhancement. I'm past my second week of a juice fast, and I’m sharper and more energized than ever. I’m consuming mostly green drinks now, but the first week, I indulged in some smoothies with banana or almond milk, and I’m drinking some herbal teas as well. I’m limiting my intake between approximately 8 or 9 am until 5 or 6 pm, leaving roughly 15 hours or more to fast on nothing but water or herbal tea, and I’m doing it for 3 weeks before going into an intermittent fasting protocol (disclaimer: do consult your physician before beginning any new fasting protocol).
I’m not doing this to lose weight (although that is an added benefit), but I am doing it to gain brain cells and increase synaptic connections. Yes, that’s right, lose weight, gain brain.
With fasting, the brain is enhanced because it needs to go into high alert because fasting induces a level of stress in the body. As our hunter-gatherer ancestors experienced fasting (or in their case, near starvation), they had to be mentally sharp to find food to survive. So yes, this induces the fight-or-flight mode, but we can be vigilant to counteract that stress with yoga, meditation, relaxation brain training, exercise, some time spent in nature, or whatever stress management technique is preferred.
One of the peak benefits of fasting (juice, water, or intermittent fasting) is the increase of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF is a protein created in the brain, that is encoded by the BDNF gene. This is fantastic for you and your brain because:
BDNF protects existing neurons and enhances the growth and differentiation of new neurons from stem cells.
It is important for the creation of new synapses and enabling neuroplasticity through enhanced long-term potentiation (LTP). LTP is the essence of learning and memory, and the factor considered in Donald Hebb’s famously paraphrased research that confirms that "neurons that fire together, wire together".
The key regions of the brain benefited by BDNF include the hippocampus where memory is consolidated, the outer cortex of the brain which is responsible for complex higher level brain functioning, and the basal forebrain, which includes numerous structures, serves a major role in the production of the all important neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is essential for muscle activation as well as the general neuroplasticity of the brain.
I must say that I’m not only enjoying the mind-enhancing effects of BDNF during my fast, but I am particularly enjoying the increased sense of clarity and the increase in energy that arrived toward the end of my first week of fasting. I’m not only becoming increasingly energized, but my sleep has been great, my mood is up, and the energy I am enjoying is a mostly calm energy with occasional bouts of mildly manic energy. Happily, my meditation practice is enhanced at this time as well.
I will follow up with Part II of this topic and touch base more on theses following additional benefits of fasting: