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A lot of us wish there was an easy fix to “brain power’. Imagine eating certain foods or even following a different meal schedule would guarantee an increase in our intelligence – we’d all be doing it! But this idea of what we eat and when we eat it might not be as far from the truth as you would think. There has been increased attention to this in recent studies, with varying opinions among scientists.
In an episode of TED Talk, Neuroscientist Mark Mattson claimed intermittent fasting (5:2 diet; eating under 500 calories a day, for 2 days a week) has positive effects on the brain. Mattson states that fasting leads to the release of molecules (called ketones), which are “good for the brain” as they provide an alternative energy source to nerve cells in the brain. Research has found that some of these molecules can be “more efficient than glucose’, meaning more energy can be produced from them. Since energy is used by the brain to carry out its functions, more energy is surely a positive thing! A study on mice has also found “intermittent fasting improves brain functions” by comparing mice fed regularly with mice fed every other day. The mice who “fasted” were found to have better learning and memory skills than the regularly fed group. This further supports the fact that fasting may in fact increase the power of our brains! But, as always with science, it isn’t really that simple.
There are also studies with views that differ from the view that fasting has positive effects on brain power. One such study was carried out on overweight women, who fasted for 2 days before their brain and cognitive (thinking) abilities were tested. The study concluded that the fasting had “no effect” on these areas. In addition to this, a study was also completed on male athletes who were participating in Ramadan fasting (fasting from sunrise to sunset daily for the entire 9th month of the Islamic calendar, including all food and drink). It was found that verbal and visual learning and memory, were reduced and there was “no significant fasting effect on visual learning and memory. A number of things could have contributed to the negative impact, including focus and concentration being reduced due to distractions from hunger and increasing dehydration throughout the day.
Unfortunately the varying research isn’t conclusive as to what the short term and long term effects of fasting are on the brain, but there is certainly evidence to suggest a connection between fasting and brain power. Hopefully as research continues, we will learn the effect of fasting on brain power and use it to our advantage. Hopefully it isn’t just a theory and we will be able to starve ourselves clever in the future!
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