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Fasting diets could make you smarter, finds study

The Independent logo The Independent 14/12/2017 Sarah Young
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Intermittent fasting diets such as the popular 5:2 could improve memory and learning capabilities, finds study.

While this type of regime is typically associated with weight loss, new research on mice has revealed a link between eating every other day and better cognitive function.

In these animals, fasting was found to cause changes in the brain that likely give neurons more energy, and enable them to grow more connections, the New Scientist reports.

Researchers from the National Institute of Aging looked at 40 mice, which were each given routines where they either ate nothing every other day, or ate normally – each category consumed the same number of calories.

Interestingly, the team found that the mice who fasted showed a 50 per cent increase in a brain chemical called BDNF; something which prior research has suggested plays a role in promoting the growth of nerve cells and improves overall cognitive functioning.

During periods of intermittent fasting, the body switches energy sources from glucose, made in the liver, to fat cells, which stimulate activity and cell growth in the brain, according to the study.

'When those stores are out, human, as well as animal bodies switch to fat stores, which are converted into compounds called ketones in the blood,” says Mark Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute of Aging.

“Ketones act directly on the nerve cells to stimulate production of BDNF and may help optimize cognition, learning and memory building.”

The results of the study found that the mice had better mental function that lasted between seven and 14 days. 

They also appeared more alert and showed more activity in the areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory during the fasting period.

However, while this type of diet worked on mice, Mattson explains that it probably wouldn’t have the same effects on humans.

Instead, previous research has shown that people adjust relatively easily to popular diets such as the 5:2, which require two days of fasting each week, the Daily Mail reports.

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