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  • Chris Sass

Intermittent Fasting Brain Benefits


If you are suffering from symptoms stemming from a traumatic brain injury, there are many areas to focus on during the healing and recovery process. Diet and nutrition is a key component to this healing, and in this blog we dive a little deeper into one aspect; intermittent fasting.This blog will give a brief overview of what intermittent fasting is, how to do it, and the potential brain benefits associated with intermittent fasting. Let’s break it all down.

intermittent fasting neuroplasticity
Intermittent Fasting can improve brain function!

After sustaining a brain injury or experiencing neurological symptoms, many patients look into the area of diet and nutrition to help them in their recovery. This topic is still debated among healthcare professionals, even outside of the realm of brain injury. With many different opinions and a plethora of diet options, this can be particularly overwhelming and difficult to find the correct plan for you. Our objective in this blog is to provide information that will help you make that decision-- I believe that the best choices are made when you fully understand what your options are and the potential risk/benefit to each option. Specifically when it comes to healing after brain injury, it is important to help support a healing environment in the brain while you are doing visual, physical, or other types of rehabilitation.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a general term used to describe a variety of eating patterns in which no calories are consumed for certain time periods. It is important to note that it is time restricted, and not food restricted. For example, you could be following a paleo diet, Mediterranean diet, Keto diet, or others while you are doing intermittent fasting. The most important factor is having a "window" where you eat during the day, and the rest of the time you are not eating.

There are many different kinds of intermittent fasting, but some of the most common are time-restricted fasting, 5:2 fasting, and alternate day fasting. An example of time restricted fasting would be where you only eat food over a 4 hour window (say 2pm - 6pm), and remaining 20 hours you would fast. 5:2 fasting commonly is where for 2 days out of the week you would restrict total calories to 500-600/day. The other days would be normal and without restriction. Just as it sounds, alternate day fasting is where you would eat as much as you want one day, and the next you do not eat anything. To note, these are just general overviews and each kind of intermittent fasting has variations. This can make trying these fasting routines very difficult without the oversight of an expert or trained professional.

While there are many different thoughts and opinions on these fasting routines, the main idea is that you focus on the requirement of when you eat rather than what you are eating.

What impact does intermittent fasting have on the brain?

Intermittent fasting has been found to have incredible benefits for brain health and recovery.

- Improves Neuroplasticity

Robust evidence supports the enhanced production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, during intermittent fasting. BDNF is vitally important in maintaining neuronal survival, synaptic function (brain communication). This means that following an intermittent fasting regimen can help your brain communication better!

- Increases Neurogenesis

BDNF is also key in making new neurons in the hippocampus. This process is called neurogenesis. BDNF also improves learning and memory in the brain. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that plays a vital role in regulating learning, memory encoding, memory consolidation, and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is also an integral part of the limbic system, which provides high level processing of sensory information. It also provides emotional regulation and is believed to link conscious functions to unconscious functions.

- Protects against neurodegeneration:

Intermittent fasting activates a process called autophagy. Autophagy is the consumption of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process. This is helpful because in some neurodegenerative processes, mis-folded proteins can accumulate in the brain and cause damage. Examples would be beta-amyloid plaques and tau protein. Autophagy would help to prevent the accumulation of these mis-folded proteins.

Recently, it has been shown that BDNF can reduce neuroinflammation, which is another important determinant in neurodegenerative diseases.

Our mission at Great Lakes Functional Neurology is to help you understand your injury and get you back to normal, healthy living. We strive to equip you with the tools needed for a full neurological recovery. If you would like to know more, we would be happy to discuss our services in more detail with you. You can reach us at (616)-581-1558 or visit our website at and schedule a complimentary phone consult with one of our doctors.


Mattson MP, Moehl K, Ghena N, Schmaedick M, Cheng A. Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2018 Feb;19(2):63-80. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2017.156. Epub 2018 Jan 11. Erratum in: Nat Rev Neurosci. 2020 Aug;21(8):445. PMID: 29321682; PMCID: PMC5913738.

Menzies FM, Fleming A, Caricasole A, Bento CF, Andrews SP, Ashkenazi A, Füllgrabe J, Jackson A, Jimenez Sanchez M, Karabiyik C, Licitra F, Lopez Ramirez A, Pavel M, Puri C, Renna M, Ricketts T, Schlotawa L, Vicinanza M, Won H, Zhu Y, Skidmore J, Rubinsztein DC. Autophagy and Neurodegeneration: Pathogenic Mechanisms and Therapeutic Opportunities. Neuron. 2017 Mar 8;93(5):1015-1034. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.01.022. PMID: 28279350.

Anton SD, Moehl K, Donahoo WT, Marosi K, Lee SA, Mainous AG 3rd, Leeuwenburgh C, Mattson MP. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018 Feb;26(2):254-268. doi: 10.1002/oby.22065. Epub 2017 Oct 31. PMID: 29086496; PMCID: PMC5783752.

Willcox DC, Willcox BJ, Todoriki H, Curb JD, Suzuki M. Caloric restriction and human longevity: what can we learn from the Okinawans? Biogerontology. 2006 Jun;7(3):173-7. doi: 10.1007/s10522-006-9008-z. PMID: 16810568.


MEDICAL DISCLAIMER The content above is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. Great Lakes Functional Neurology does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. We recommend readers that are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications consult their physicians before starting any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

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