When a person sits back and looks at certain trends, one of the most alarming is how fast more and more people are being diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Sadly, dementia is the number one cause of death in the UK, and several modernized countries are right on their heels. As more and more people retire, more and more people are struggling to maintain a quality of life as their brain doesn’t age as gracefully as we all would hope.
There are several contributing factors to the development of these types of diseases, which in part is the reason a single approach therapy like a medication or supplement isn’t as effective as everyone would hope. There are lots of environmental insults like diesel fumes, pesticides, aluminum in the air, and so on that we don’t have control over since they are ubiquitous in our environment. Not to mention the gut/brain axis is very real and research is being published on a regular basis solidifying the concept of a gut on fire equals a brain on fire. There can be several infections like H. Pylori, SIBO, and Candida playing a role as well as viruses like HSV-1 that can increase the risk.
The gut/brain axis is like a double-edged sword in the sense that if the gut isn’t working, there are fewer nutrients available to the brain, which can further drive the loss of the brain’s control of the gut. The brain has such tight regulation of the gut that it is known to start ‘leaking’ after head injuries. On that subject, head injuries can be a big contributing factor to developing neurodegenerative diseases, especially with those that are genetically susceptible like APOE genes.
One of the things we do have control over is how often we put food in our mouths. It might not be a coincidence that as our ability to have food whenever we want and never really go hungry, the rate of these types of diseases are increasing as well. Fasting is one of the easiest strategies a person can implement that can have long-term benefits when it comes to their brain aging. But why is this? In a nutshell, going without food can stimulate something called autophagy. If no calories are coming in, cells start to clean themselves out and cells that are damaged and dying are removed to be replaced – much like a spring cleaning.
This is important because a big problem in these types of diseases is because the nerves can’t work due to tangles in the cells and a process called ‘pruning’ doesn’t take place and there is basically too much stuff between neurons to get a good signal through because everything is overgrown. Not to mention if a person does have a gut infection or a ‘leaky gut’ then those critters aren’t being fed either.
Too much insulin is a bad thing. Sometimes Alzheimer’s is referred to as ‘type 3 diabetes’ since there is such a high correlation between high insulin levels and brain degeneration. Again, fasting is a way to reduce these levels.
After around 12-13 hours without eating, a cell starts to use a signal called AMPK which is basically a light switch to change the metabolism of a cell in a positive manner. What a person wants to avoid is prolonged low-calorie diets, since the cycle is best with a feast (still want to be real food like cooking at home, no added sugar) and famine. An easy way to start hitting that 12-13 hour mark is to eat dinner by 6 and not eat anything after and skip breakfast a few times a week. The longer and longer a person can periodically go without eating, the more and more they are stimulating healing in their brain by this process called autophagy since it appears that stem cells are utilized to grow new neurons, even in places like the hippocampus, which is notoriously famous for degrading in Alzheimer’s disease.
72-hour fasting appears to be a goal to shoot for and there is a lot of promise showing the positive effects of brain health over a person’s lifespan. This can be hard to do psychologically, since a part of the brain called the mesolimbic (pleasure from stuff like food) will tell a person they “have” to eat… one of the reasons mental stress is a big thing to try and avoid while fasting since a person will possibly derive pleasure from food. For a lot of people, their adrenals can’t handle the ‘stress’ of raising blood sugar and they will start to get shaky, foggy, light-headed, and irritable. Although not for everyone, there are types of modified fasts that we have made that can really help bypass the trouble stabilizing blood sugar to get the benefits of a longer fast.