Are Low Energy Neuroprotective?

weight lossFasting has been known to produce anticonvulsant effects since the 1920’s. In fact low energy diets and fasting are recorded at effective treatments for epilepsy by mainstream medicine. As understanding of this process has increased, it has become clear that low energy diets and fasting may have general neuroprotective effects in animals and humans. On interesting aspect of this research is that ketogenic diets and the presence of ketone bodies in the blood appears to be neuroprotective, and this may explain the neuroprotective effects of fasting and low energy diets. Further, it is known that low energy diets are protective of both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease and that obesity increases the risk of dementia. Low energy diets may also increase energy pathways in the brain providing cognitive benefits. It is also known that energy restriction can improve mood. In animals, the normal deterioration seen with age in cognitive function is also reduced with energy restriction.

energy restriction mood

The sirtuins are a group of enzymes that regulate gene expression. Increasing the expression of sirtuins increases longevity in animals and may increase neuroprotective factors in the brain. In mammals, energy restriction increases expression of sirtuins. Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in grapes and red wine also increases expression of sirtuins. This may explain why red wine has been shown to increase the age-related memory decline seen in mammals.

It was originally thought that the improvements in mood, memory and other cognitive functions seen in energy restrictive diets may be due to improved mitochondrial function and ultimately decreases free radical generation, or through gene regulation that increases the production of neuroprotective factors. These mechanisms may contribute to the beneficial neurochemical effects of energy restrictive diets. A more recent theory suggests that the stress placed upon the cells of the brain by energy restriction, may increase the efficiency of the energy production of the cell. Energy restricted diets may also increase antioxidant defences by upregulating antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase. Coupled with the decrease in free radicals generated by the improved mitochondrial function, this may decrease oxidative stress in the tissue of the brain and decrease lipid peroxidation of cell membranes, improving neuronal transmission and thereby improving mood.  

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Maalouf, M., Rho, J. M. and Mattson, M. P. 2009. The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies. Brain Research Reviews. 59(2): 293-315
Wing, R. R., Marcus, M. D., Blair, E. H. and Burton, L. R. 1991. Psychological responses of obese type II diabetic subjects to very-low-calorie diet. Diabetes Care. 14(7): 596-599

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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