Do fasting and low-carb diets make you smarter?
Plato said that he fasted for greater physical and mental efficiency; Pythagoras only admitted disciples of higher learning into his teachings after a period of fasting to clear the mind. It is also well documented that Socrates, Plato, Mohammed, Jesus, Hippocrates, Paracelsus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Confucius practiced and prescribed fasting for cleansing the body, spirit and mind.
My introduction to fasting wasn’t that profound. My friend who had been “juicing” for weight loss encouraged me to replace my breakfast and lunch with a juice cleanse, and I did not notice any mental clarity. In fact, it was three days later that I realized I had forgotten to take my Zoloft (anxiety—another lovely gift from menopause)! With this knowledge, I sat back waiting for the wave of anxiety to envelope me, but it never came. Then I noticed that I hadn’t experienced any hot flashes at work for the past three days and when I did get them at night, they were much less severe. THAT, was what got me started down the rabbit hole of fasting, Intermittent Fasting (IF), then low-carb and Ketogenic Dieting (KD).
In my research, I found there were countless benefits to these two practices and was intrigued at how closely they were linked. The main link is that they both enable your body to maximize the production of ketones and the utilization of fat stores. Remember, ketones are produced by the liver when carbohydrates are not present, for example, during fasting, starving, low carbohydrate diets, and prolonged exercise (see Low Carb vs. Keto Part I).
The brain is the most complex and energy demanding organ in the body, requiring almost twice as much energy as any other organ (about 10-20% of the body’s daily energy supply). For decades, carbohydrates were said to be the best source of energy for the brain; however, through research of Dr. Stephen Cunnane and the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Prevention Program it appears the brain’s preferred source of energy comes from ketones.
When it comes to neuro-degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), ALS, Huntinton’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and even Parkinson’s disease, neuroinflammation, free radical formation and mitochondrial dysfunction are believed to be contributing factors. At minimal, these factors can lead to reduced ATP (cell energy) production and at worst, death of the brain cell.
Dr. Cunnane’s research shows that “even the areas of the Alzheimer’s brains that had decreased uptake of glucose had normal uptake of ketones. The implication of this is that the neurons themselves are not dead just not able to use glucose.” The basis of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Ketogenic Diet study is that ketones can help improve cognition by improving this brain energy deficit. “A dietary pattern high in carbohydrate, especially highly glycemic carbohydrates, was associated with biomarkers for AD risk. A ketogenic diet restricted in carbohydrate and higher in fat may elicit cognitive benefit in individuals already diagnosed with AD.” KU Scholarworks 8/31/17
My conclusion is, if I can help myself now, I’m going to take every advantage that I can. Lessening the severity of my hot flashes, belly fat and anxiety (all attributed to menopause) has been miraculous, and knowing that this way of life can potentially fortify the brain cells I have left is the frosting on the cake—so why wouldn’t I?!?