Can intermittent fasting make you smarter? Is it possible to improve cognition through food abstinence? This is what I’m going to delve into in this article.
Intermittent Fasting and Cognition
Intermittent Fasting has been practiced for thousands of years by many cultures. Usually, it’s done for medicinal purposes, as Hippocrates said: “To eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.”
In Ancient Greece, there were many philosophers and mathematicians who fasted not only for the health benefits but to improve their cognition as well.
- Socrates and Plato would routinely fast for 7-10 days to gain physical and mental sharpness.
- Pythagoras fasted 40 days and demanded all his students to do the same before letting them into his classes.
But fasting was preached by other intellectuals later in history as well.
- Benjamin Franklin said: “The best of all medicines is rest and fasting,” and “To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.”
- Mark Twain wrote in his book Appetite Cure how he discovered fasting and stuck with it because of the improvements in his health, digestion and mental clarity.
What does the science really say about intermittent fasting and cognitive functioning?
Intermittent Fasting and Cognitive Functioning
When in a fasted state, your physiology goes through several adaptations:
- Human growth hormone skyrockets, which builds muscle, burns fat and maintains the youthfulness of the entire organism.
- You raise norepinephrine and cortisol, which will hone your alertness and make you more focused. It puts you into hunting mode.
- The liver will start producing ketone bodies, which are a much better fuel source for the brain than glucose.
- IF increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which increases the resistance of neurons to dysfunction and degeneration[i].
- You trigger autophagy, which is a metabolic pathway responsible for cellular detox and repair. Even just a short fast has an effect on the brain’s neuronal autophagy[ii].
Why is this relevant?
Taking care of your brain’s health is essential for increasing longevity and promoting every cognitive function.
- You have to reduce inflammation throughout the body, especially the gut because your microbiome directly affects your mood and thinking. #BRAINFOG
- You have to protect yourself against neurodegeneration. Treasure your brain cells and don’t get Alzheimer’s.
- You want to promote neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells.
Fasting is the most effective natural ways of conducting cellular maintenance and repair. It’s our body’s own way of healing itself and facilitating new growth.
Digestion and Cognition
Have you ever went into a “food coma”? You eat lunch and the only thing that could prevent you from passing out on the floor is a large shot of espresso or running away from a lion.
Eating stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” mode. Digestion requires a lot of energy. Absorbing the nutrients from food itself burns some calories. Because calories are a whole lot more important for survival than cognition, it’s much higher on the list of priorities for the body.
Eating and digestion take away energy from the brain. It’s only after you’ve absorbed the nutrients and shuttled them into the blood stream, you’ll be able to use those calories for cognitive functioning.
Fasting causes cellular stress to the body in a good way and opens up physical and mental space for your mind to become sharper.
Can Intermittent Fasting Make You Smarter?
Let’s get back to the question at hand.
Does intermittent fasting make you smarter?
Not directly. Even though it improves the brain and cognitive functioning, it’s not enough to actually become more intelligent. You can have the most magnificent brain cells, but the magic isn’t as much in the hardware as in how you use it.
Intermittent fasting facilitates a better environment for neurogenesis and increases the capacity for intelligence, the ability to focus and it stimulates creativity as well.
Going without food for short periods is very beneficial to the brain and body because you’re forced to pick up your feet as to adapt. The only way for hunter-gatherers to survive their uncertain lifestyle was to get smarter in getting food and building better tools.
Intermittent Fasting Cognitive Support
As we’ve seen, intermittent fasting is great for not only cognitive support but for maintaining overall health and performance.
Doing some form of intermittent fasting every day is great for increasing your body’s ability to burn fat. This, in return, will enable you to go without hunger for long periods of time while maintaining stable energy levels and sharpened focus.
Incorporating some form of intermittent fasting with the ketogenic diet is the surest way of becoming a fat burning beast and transforming your body’s biochemistry.