“Instead of using medicine, better fast today.” -Plutarch, a Greek biographer, and moralist
What if missing a meal or two were enough to alleviate the symptoms of depression?
Research shows that this may not be too far from the truth.
Intermittent fasting can be a solution for multiple psychiatric illnesses such as depression, which is a result of alternation in brain chemicals. “Fasting normalizes the level of these chemicals and restores brain function.”
In 2009, a meta-analysis that was conducted on past research reported that obesity often leads to depression. This study used a “systematic search strategy to identify published literature between 1995 and 2008 that reported data from prospective longitudinal studies of obesity and comorbid medical conditions and then performed a meta-analysis.”
Comorbid: existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition
Meta-analysis: a quantitative statistical analysis of several separate but similar experiments or studies in order to test the pooled data for statistical significance
The author of this study was quick to remark that “Clinicians should be aware that the association can occur in both directions.” In other words, depression can lead to obesity just like obesity can lead to depression; it can be a slippery slope in both directions.
People who are depressed often attempt to find comfort through food. Any kind of food in concentration can be bad, but the most sought after food during depression is often carbohydrate-rich foods. When exposed to too many carbohydrates, you greatly increase your likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.
It is important to note that metabolic syndrome isn’t a disease in and of itself, but rather a combination of risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and abdominal fat.
All of which, when combined, can be extremely hazardous and can double your risk of blood vessel and heart disease. Furthermore, these factors could result in heart attacks, strokes and can increase your risk of diabetes significantly!
Intermittent fasting can “tap into” the metabolic state of ketosis. “Ketosis is one of the primary processes that affect the brain.” When fasting, the body looks for fuel to burn for energy. In the absence of “carbohydrates to use as a fuel source, the liver converts fat into ketone bodies, which eventually pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source.”
Ketosis: the accumulation of excess ketones in the body
Ketone: any of a class of organic compounds (such as acetone) characterized by a carbonyl group attached to two carbon atoms
During the fast, ketosis is altering two neurotransmitters, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. A lot of studies and research have suggested that both GABA and glutamate may be associated with depressive disorders. “When an individual is fasting and burning fat, the body makes less glutamate.” When an individual eats, “the burning of glucose causes the body to make glutamate.”
Additionally, “research has shown a strong correlation between depression and medical problems, most notably hypertension and cardiovascular conditions.”
In the 1970s, researchers at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) collected data for a landmark study entitled “National Health and Nutrition Examination 1 Epidemiologic follow-up Study (NHAMES).” Then in 1997, a group of researchers used the NHAMES data in order to conduct a new study.
This new study used the data to compare psychological tests of about three-thousand adults with normal blood pressure. The experiment was done over a period of seven to sixteen years. “They found that those who suffered from depression at the start of the study were two to three times more likely to have developed hypertension.”
Intermittent fasting’s effectiveness in healing depression may be directly correlated to fasting’s result on the human brain. “Most of the anti-depressant medicines produce their therapeutic effects by causing an increase in the release of BDNF.”
BDNF: brain-derived neurotrophic factor
For more information on BDNF’s effect on the brain click here: BDNF And Its Effect On The Brain
Fasting releases a large amount of BDNF into the brain as well. Thereby making fasting a natural way to reduce depression.
So, next time you consider adding more chemicals to your body in order to alleviate the symptoms of depression, try fasting instead.
- Davidson, John, and Muhammad Usman. Amazing Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. JD-Biz Corp Publishing, 2013. Print.
- Fredricks, Randi.Fasting: an exceptional human experience.AuthorHouse, 2013. Print.