What Fasting Does To Your Brain & Why Big Pharma Won’t Study It: report
Moneylife Digital Team 16 December 2015
In a TEDx talk, Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, says calorie restriction or fasting extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases
Fasting twice a week could significantly lower the risk of developing both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It also improves cognitive function, increases neurotrophic factors, increases stress resistance, and reduces inflammation, says a report from Collective Evolution.
The report, quoting a TEDx talk given by Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, says, "Why is it that the normal diet is three meals a day plus snacks? It is not that it is the healthiest eating pattern, now that is my opinion but I think there is a lot of evidence to support that. There are a lot of pressures to have that eating pattern, there’s a lot of money involved. The food industry — are they going to make money from skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they are going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry loses money. What about the pharmaceutical industries? What if people do some intermittent fasting, exercise periodically and are very healthy, is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?”  
"There have been countless examples of the manipulation of published research at the hands of pharmaceutical companies in recent years. This is why Harvard Professor of Medicine Arnold Symour Relman told the world that the medical profession has been bought by the pharmaceutical industry. It is why Dr. Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of The Lancet, recently stated that much of the scientific literature published today is simply untrue. It is why Dr. Marcia Angell, former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, said that the “pharmaceutical industry likes to depict itself as a research-based industry, as the source of innovative drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth.” And it’s why John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, published an article titled ‘Why Most Published Research Findings Are False’, which subsequently became the most widely accessed article in the history of the Public Library of Science (PLoS)," the report says.
Mark Mattson and his team have published several papers that discuss how fasting twice a week could significantly lower the risk of developing both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, the report says.
Quoting Mark Mattson, the report says, “Dietary changes have long been known to have an effect on the brain. Children who suffer from epileptic seizures have fewer of them when placed on caloric restriction or fasts. It is believed that fasting helps kick-start protective measures that help counteract the overexcited signals that epileptic brains often exhibit. (Some children with epilepsy have also benefited from a specific high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.) Normal brains, when overfed, can experience another kind of uncontrolled excitation, impairing the brain’s function, Mattson and another researcher reported in January in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.”
According to the report, basically, when you take a look at caloric restriction studies, many of them show a prolonged lifespan as well as an increased ability to fight chronic disease. “Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear,” Mattson was quoted as saying in the report.
It says, fasting does good things for the brain, and this is evident by all of the beneficial neurochemical changes that happen in the brain when we fast. It also improves cognitive function, increases neurotrophic factors, increases stress resistance, and reduces inflammation.
Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and your brain responds to that challenge by adapting stress response pathways which help your brain cope with stress and risk for disease. The same changes that occur in the brain during fasting mimic the changes that occur with regular exercise. They both increase the production of protein in the brain (neurotrophic factors), which in turn promotes the growth of neurons, the connection between neurons, and the strength of synapses, the report added.
Quoting Mark Mattson, it further says, “Challenges to your brain, whether it’s intermittent fasting [or] vigorous exercise . . . is cognitive challenges. When this happens neuro-circuits are activated, levels of neurotrophic factors increase, that promotes the growth of neurons [and] the formation and strengthening of synapses. . . .” 
Fasting can also stimulate the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus. Mattson also mentions ketones (an energy source for neurons), and how fasting stimulates the production of ketones and that it may also increase the number of mitochondria in neurons. Fasting also increases the number of mitochondria in nerve cells; this comes as a result of the neurons adapting to the stress of fasting (by producing more mitochondria).
By increasing the number of mitochondria in the neurons, the ability for neurons to form and maintain the connections between each other also increases, thereby improving learning and memory ability, the report says.
Mattson, in his talks, also goes into the evolutionary aspect of this theory – how our ancestors adapted and were built for going long periods of time without food.
A study published in the 5th June issue of Cell Stem Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California showed that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and, moreover, induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. It triggers stem cell based regeneration of an organ or system. 
According to the report, Human clinical trials were conducted using patients who were receiving chemotherapy. For long periods of time, patients did not eat, which significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles “flipped a regenerative switch, changing the signalling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems,” it added.
Quoting Valter Longo, corresponding author of the study , the report from Collective Evolution says, "We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system. . . . When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.  What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back."
The report again quoting from the Mattson talk at TEDx says, before you fast, make sure you do your research. "Personally, I’ve been fasting for years, so it is something that comes easy for me. One recommended way of doing it — which was tested by the BBC’s Michael Mosley in order to reverse his diabetes, high cholesterol, and other problems that were associated with his obesity — is what is known as the “5:2 Diet.” On the 5:2 plan, you cut your food down to one-fourth of your normal daily calories on fasting days (about 600 calories for men and about 500 for women), while consuming plenty of water and tea. On the other five days of the week, you can eat normally," Mattson had said.
Another way to do it, as mentioned above, is to restrict your food intake between the hours of 11am and 7pm daily, while not eating during the hours outside of that time.
Bottom line, how you think about your diet is, in my opinion, one of the most, if not the most important part of staying healthy. How you think about what you are putting in your body is important, and I believe this will eventually be firmly established in the untainted, unbiased, uninfluenced medical literature of the future, the report from Collective Evolution concludes.
7 years ago
Thanks for such a researched topic which is the core of our lifestyle. Fasting has endowed healthy and long life to our forefathers. More and more authentic research is required on our age-old practices .
7 years ago
Interesting article and interesting the Prophet Mohammad (saw) used to fast twice a week .
Adam Smith
8 years ago
Low carb diets (you know, like the long maligned by the medical an nutrition establishment Atkins Diet) essentially mimic a starvation response produce by fasting (i,e., burns fat instead of glucose, lowers blood sugar, has reduced insulin response, etc.), - thus their success in weight loss and overall good health. It is all part of the same paradigm shift from the so called best diets of he last thirty years to the low carb / fasting era, or back to where it used to be 30 years ago before the obesity epidemic.

I am glad to see that the NIH is finally at last starting to notice and fund research in this area. They IMHO are one of the main causes of the problem. For thirty years they have ignored all the evidence that is now coming to light again, that was there all along, in favor of funding research almost exclusively on finding cures through pharmaceutical means.
Adam Smith
Replied to Adam Smith comment 8 years ago
To understand the depth of almost total lack of knowledge of nutrition management (which includes fasting) in the allopathic medical establishment take a look at this well known medical researcher talking about the subject (skip to 1hr, 9min, 45 sec mark). The reason they know nothing is because nutrition is not taught in medical schools and because any bright young medical researcher for the last thirty years knows that if you submit your research grant to the NIH and say you have found a cure to obesity, diabetes and heart disease and it means just change your diet and skip all the drugs, would never ever get the project funded. Thus the culpability of the NIH, which is just a branch of the medical research establishment.

This is why that unlike the Apollo program and the Manhattan Project solved their advance science and engineering problems in just a few years and why the War on Cancer and the War on Heart Diseas have utterly failed after 30 plus years add trillions of dollars of research. They are lookng in the wrong place using the worng theories. It is in the diet, dummies. The answer as to why, is also quite simple, but the details are too long for this post. In short it involves bad science by doctors and the NIH, politics and pressure from the food and pharmaceutical industries, all of whom have gotten rich off the failures and are still getting rich. Like the guy in the Ted talk understands, there is no money in fasting or changing your diet to mimic it.
Adam Smith
Replied to Adam Smith comment 8 years ago
Would correct spelling and typos but no edit function found. sorry.
Prakash Bhate
8 years ago
"There have been countless examples ......."

Exactly what Dr B M Hegde has been telling in these columns.
Meenal Mamdani
8 years ago
An interesting article that raises more questions than it answers.

Pharma companies are unlikely to fund research which would place body's own mechanisms for healing higher than drugs that generate profits. Therefore this research will have to come from academic centers.

Many religions besides Jains follow ritual fasting. Catholics do it during Lent, Muslims during Ramzan, etc. It should be possible to design controlled studies using this population.

By the same token, one would think that these discrete populations would show the beneficial effects of fasting practiced over hundreds of years. Do orthodox Jains, Muslims, Catholics have a longer and healthier life span than their non-confirming coreligionists?
Narendra Doshi
8 years ago
It really works. Many of your Jain friends do annual/periodic fasting.Worth trying for oneself.
8 years ago
Excellent article.
Thank you
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