With the often-overwhelming amount of information we are bombarded with regarding diet and its impact on our state of health, it can be confusing to make sense of it all. And the relationship between food and disease has become more apparent in all fields of medicine including neurology.
We know the type of food we eat is important, but so is when we eat – humans simply didn’t evolve by getting up and going to the refrigerator first thing in the morning! Our ancient ancestors went through periods of long fasts in between meals and there was no snacking! Our bodies and brains were fueled with ketones, which are neuro-protective and stimulate nerve growth, vs. the sugar-laden products most of us consume today. I am always shocked on an overnight flight when they serve, dinner, a snack and breakfast all within a few hours!
Today, when I see patients, I am reminded that my mother never let us snack in between meals. She always said (likely in response to our complaints!) "Snacking will ruin your dinner. Go outside and play.”
The obesity epidemic began in the 1970's and while a number of factors are attributed to this event, I believe a primary issue is that we started snacking. So by 2004, most Americans were eating SIX times a day. The nutrition advice we received in the 70s to eat more carbohydrates and less fat was also very wrong and just the opposite of what we see now that is truly best for our brains and our bodies. Insulin is the number one driver of obesity. When you are constantly eating, insulin levels never shut off and eventually your body develops “insulin resistance”, which can lead to diabetes
Numerous studies have shown the benefits of time-restricted eating*; this means you:
a. do not snack in between meals.
b. you fast for 12-16 hours after your last evening meal.
c. even better, you eat between the hours of 8am -200 pm.
Interestingly, the study patients on the fast were not hungry – because being in low grade ketosis is the best way to reduce your appetite, clear your brain fog and improve your energy level. Patients in the study also showed improved cardio-metabolic health and lipid metabolism as well as weight loss.
This approach to eating may also increase autophagy and have anti-aging effects in humans (think of autophagy as the cellular clean-up crew). Fasting and caloric restriction can ramp up autophagy; when cells are in famine mode and don’t have to break down food, they pause their usual tasks and stop dividing. Instead, they work on repairing and recycling damaged components, and cleaning out dead or harmful cell matter. Now imagine the impact this has on our brains and clearly the link between neurological function and what and how we eat is even more significant!
So thanks, Mom, for all of your advice and for more evidence that yes, our moms really do know best!
For specifics regarding the NIH time-restricted feeding study see:
Also, Dr Mark Mattson at the NIH as been studying intermittent fasting for decades. For more information, please take a look at this study:
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Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology