Neuroscientist Shows What Fasting Does To Your Brain & Why Big Pharma Won’t Study It

Have you ever thought about the effects of fasting on your body and health? This article provides a TEDx talk by Mark Mattson, who is the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging.

Also, he works as a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University and is undoubtedly one of the best researchers of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

During the last few decades, ‘Big Pharma’ has been found to manipulate published research. Due to this, the Harvard Professor of Medicine Arnold Seymour Relman said that the pharmaceutical industry has bought the medical profession.

The same reason made John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, publish an article under the title “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” that became the most widely accessed article in the history of the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

In the same manner, Dr. Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of The Lancet, told that there is a great part of the published scientific literature these days that is simply false. Furthermore, Dr. Marcia Angell, an ex-editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, maintained that the “pharmaceutical industry likes to depict itself as a research-based industry, as the source of innovative drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

At the end of the video, Dr. Mattson also comments on this topic:

“Why is it that the normal diet is three meals a day plus snacks? It isn’t that it’s the healthiest eating pattern, now that’s my opinion but I think there is a lot of evidence to support that.

There are a lot of pressures to have that eating pattern, there’s a lot of money involved. The food industry — are they going to make money from skipping breakfast like I did today?

No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry loses money. What about the pharmaceutical industries?

What if people do some intermittent fasting, exercise periodically and are very healthy, is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?”

Mark’s team has published many papers whose subject examines the effects of fasting on reducing the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

“Dietary changes have long been known to have an effect on the brain. Children who suffer from epileptic seizures have fewer of them when placed on caloric restriction or fasts.

It is believed that fasting helps kick-start protective measures that help counteract the overexcited signals that epileptic brains often exhibit. (Some children with epilepsy have also benefited from a specific high-fat, low carbohydrate diet.)

Normal brains, when overfed, can experience another kind of uncontrolled excitation, impairing the brain’s function, Mattson and another researcher reported in January in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.”

Multiple caloric restriction studies have found that it leads to boosted ability of the body to fight chronic diseases, as well as a prolonged lifespan.

“Calorie restriction (CR) extends lifespan and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear.”

While fasting, the brain experiences multiple neurochemical changes, which are beneficial for the body, and inflammation is reduced, stress is managed, and the cognitive function and the neurotrophic factors are boosted.

Namely, the brain is challenged by fasting, and its response is actually an adaptation of stress response pathways which help the brain to lower stress and fight diseases.

These effects are the same as the ones of regular exercise. The protein production in the body is supported, and this, in turn, stimulates the growth of neurons, their connection, and the synapses strength.

“Challenges to your brain, whether it’s intermittent fasting [or] vigorous exercise . . . is cognitive challenges. When this happens neuro-circuits are activated, levels of neurotrophic factors increase, that promotes the growth of neurons [and] the formation and strengthening of synapses…”

Moreover, fasting also triggers the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus. Neurons get their energy from ketones, and fasting stimulates the production of ketones as well.

This leads to an increased number of mitochondria in neurons and nerve cells, as neurons adapt to the stress of fasting.

As the number of mitochondria in the neurons is raised, their properties to create and maintain links between each other is also boosted, and the memory and learning skills of the individual are also enhanced.

 “Intermittent fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA.”

He also comments about the evolutionary aspect of this theory and explains the way our ancestors coped with the long periods of time without having any food.

Scientists from the University of Southern California published a study in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell, which confirmed that cycles of prolonged fasting prevent weakening of the immune system, and support its regeneration.

They also found that fasting converts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal, which situates stem cell-based regeneration of an organ or system.

Human clinical trials involved patients who were undergoing chemotherapy, and the long periods of eating nothing drastically reduced their white blood cell counts.

In the case of mice, experts have found that fasting cycles “flipped a regenerative switch, changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems.”

Therefore, fasting destroys the old and damaged immune cells, and uses stem cells when the body rebounds in order to form new, entirely healthy cells.

According to Valter Longo, the corresponding author:

“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system. . . .

When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged. 

What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. ”

Back in 2007, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a scientific review of numerous studies which examined the effects of fasting, and the multiple human and animal studies have shown that fasting effectively lowers the risk of cancer and heart problems, and provides great effects in the treatment of diabetes.

However, before you decide to fast, research this topic in order to get at least a general idea of the entire procedure. You can start fasting by initially restricting the food intake between 11 am and 7 pm, and do not eat outside this time frame.


The BBC’s Michael Mosley tested another method with an attempt to regulate his high cholesterol levels, reverse his diabetes, and treat other issues related to his obesity. The plan is known as the “5:2 Diet.”

It requires that you cut the food down to ¼ of the normal daily calories on fasting days (which is approximately 600 calories for men and 500 for women), while consuming plenty of water and tea, and you can eat normally on the other 5 days of the week.

However, always make sure your diet supports your health and maintains your optimal body state.

The following video of Dr. Joseph Mercola will provide information on the health benefits of intermittent fasting: