Fasting a day or two a week may protect the brain against degenerative diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, according to a study by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Baltimore, USA.
Meeting of the AAAS:
"Reducing calorie consumption could help the brain, but simply reducing food intake may not be the best way to enable this protection. It's probably better to alternate periods of fasting, in which you eat almost nothing, with periods in which you eat all you want," said Mark Mattson, head of the neuroscience lab of the Institute during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.
The National Institute of Ageing based its conclusions on a study with laboratory mice, in which some animals received the minimum number of calories every other day. These mice lived twice as long as the animals that were fed normally.
Mattson said that mice that ate every other day were more sensitive to insulin - the hormone that controls blood sugar levels - and needed to produce a smaller quantity of the substance.
High levels of insulin are typically associated with a decrease in brain function and an increased risk of diabetes. Moreover, according to the scientist, fasting would have made the animals to furthermore develop new brain cells and show themselves more resistant to stress, besides equally protecting the mice from diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
According to Mattson, the theory would also be proven by studies in humans who practice fasting, including showing benefits against asthma." The dietary restriction increases energy and lifespan, and protects the brain and the cardiovascular system against age-related diseases," said Mattson.
The team now intends to study the impact of fasting on the brain using magnetic resonance imaging and other techniques.