Cognitive and Mental Health Benefits

Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve cognitive function and mental health through a range of physiological and psychological mechanisms. The physiological and psychological mechanisms behind these benefits are complex and interconnected. Let’s discuss them.

Enhancing Brain Plasticity

Intermittent fasting has been shown to enhance brain plasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to experience and environmental stimuli. Brain plasticity is important for learning, memory, and cognitive function, and is impaired in various neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor

One of the primary mechanisms by which Intermittent fasting enhances brain plasticity is by promoting the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is essential for the growth and survival of neurons. BDNF is critical for brain plasticity, as it helps to promote the growth of new neurons and synapses, and enhances the ability of neurons to communicate with each other.

Oxidative stress has been shown to reduce BDNF expression in the brain, so reducing oxidative stress through intermittent fasting may help to increase BDNF levels.

Intermittent fasting has also been shown to modulate the expression of genes involved in BDNF production, which can lead to an increase in BDNF levels. Increased BDNF levels can improve brain function and reduce the risk of developing neurological disorders.

Signaling Pathways

During fasting, cells activate various signaling pathways, including the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) pathways, which promote the production of BDNF. These pathways also help to increase the production of other proteins involved in brain plasticity, such as the protein deacetylase silent information regulator 2 (SIRT2).

Reduced inflammation and oxidative stress

By promoting autophagy and enhancing antioxidant defenses, Intermittent fasting can protect brain cells from damage caused by inflammation and oxidative stress, ultimately supporting better cognitive performance and mental health.

Stress resistance

Intermittent fasting can enhance the brain’s ability to cope with stress by promoting cellular stress resistance. This can help protect brain cells from damage caused by various stressors, including psychological stress, and support overall mental health.


The concept of hormesis suggests that exposure to mild stressors, such as short-term fasting, can promote adaptive responses that improve overall health and resilience. Intermittent fasting can act as a hormetic stressor, stimulating the brain to activate protective pathways and enhance cognitive function.

Improved metabolic health

Intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood glucose levels, and promote weight loss, all of which contribute to better metabolic health. Improved metabolic health is associated with better cognitive function, as insulin resistance and high blood glucose levels have been linked to cognitive decline and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

Enhanced mitochondrial function

As discussed earlier, Intermittent fasting can support mitochondrial function, which is critical for maintaining brain health. Healthy mitochondria provide the energy needed for optimal neural function and protect brain cells from damage caused by oxidative stress.

Psychological benefits

In addition to physiological mechanisms, Intermittent fasting can also have psychological benefits that contribute to improved mental health. For some individuals, Intermittent fasting may promote a sense of control over eating habits, reduce the stress associated with constant decision-making about food, and lead to an improved self-image due to weight loss or healthier eating habits. These psychological benefits can contribute to a more positive mental state and improved overall wellbeing.