Do you know the Mental Health Benefits of Fasting?

Do you know the Mental Health Benefits of Fasting?


Fasting in layman terms refers to giving up food consumption for a certain interval such as a day or two. Intermittent fasting refers to having a coordination between fasting and normal eating. Further there have been a lot of different types of fasting. The most heard type includes time restricted eating, alternate day fasting, circadian rhythm fasting, the 5:2 diet.

Although fasting has a scientific basis to it, people practice it on religious grounds. People fast for a lot of reasons. Some do it for religious or spiritual purposes, such as during Ramadan for muslims or Yom Kippur for Jews. Others fast for health benefits or in the form of detoxification. It is great way to practice self discipline and mindfulness.

Overview of mental health

When it comes to mental health, a balanced diet with nutrients that are essential such as omega-3, fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants can support brain health. Fasting can also have potential benefits for mental well being by promoting autophagy (cellular clean up) and reducing inflammation.

  1. Nutrient intake – A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients is important for brain health. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, nuts and seeds), B vitamins (found in whole grain, leafy greens and legumes) and antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables) elevates brain function and can contribute to enhanced or better mental health.
  2. Gut Brain connection – Researchers suggest that there is a connection between our gut health and mental health. The gut microbiome, which is influenced by what we eat, plays a role in production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, that regulates the mood. Consumption of a diverse range of plant based diet and fermented beverages can help promote a healthy gut microbiome.
  3. Blood sugar regulation – The food we eat affects our blood sugar levels, which can impact our mood and energy levels. Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars often results in blood sugar spikes and crashes which may cause mood swings and feelings of fatigue. Choosing whole foods, complex carbohydrates and sources of healthy fats and proteins can help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  4. Inflammation – Prolonged inflammation in the body has been linked to several mental health conditions, that includes depression and mood disorders. Some food items, like processed meats, sugary beverages and refined grains can contribute to inflammation whereas an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and support mental well being.

There is a tiny case study to showcase the possible impact of diet and fasting on mental health.

For example, let’s take the case of Nyra (name changed), a 25 year old woman, had been experiencing prolonged symptoms of anxiety and low mood. She noticed that the symptoms worsened after consuming diet which is high in processed items and sugary beverages or snacks. With the help of healthcare professionals, Nyra made some changes in her eating habits. She started incorporating more whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. She reduced the intake of processed food and sugary snacks. Further Nyra decided to begin intermittent fasting wherein she abstained herself from eating for a certain number of hours each day. Over time she noticed improvements in her mental well being. She experienced reduced anxiety levels, improved mood and increased energy.

Read More: From Comfort to Compulsion: Decoding the Secrets of Emotional Eating

Importance of investigating mental health benefits of fasting

It is said that when a person fasts, the body has less toxins flowing through their blood and lymphatic system, resulting in the ease to think and function. During fasting the energy that would normally gets used in digestion would thereby be used by brain. People often report headaches or pain in the initial days of the process but as the body adapts or clears itself of toxins, the brain gets better blood supply due to cleaner blood streams, resulting in enhanced reaction time, thoughts, attention, memory and increased sharpness of the sensory activities.

Fasting lets you through a rejuvenation journey, clearing off the old, damaged or diseased cells, leaving lively healthy tissues. Fasting needs mental strength, control and the ability to let go of short term cravings to pursue long term health goals.

Psychological Mechanism of Fasting

A) Neurobiological changes while fasting

The Greek term Autophagy literally means self eating or self devouring. According to Klionsky, Autophagy is a natural, controlled and destructive mechanism of the cell that eliminates components which are superfluous/malfunctioning so that they can be recycled. Researchers suggest that changes in the neurotrophic factors and neurotransmitters due to fasting may initiate fasting induced emotional enhancement.

B) Hormonal regulation and impact on mood
  1. Insulin – Fasting helps in regulating insulin levels in the body when you fast, especially for prolonged periods, your insulin levels decrease. This can improve insulin sensitivity over time and help stabilize blood sugar levels. Balanced levels of sugar are important for mood stability and can prevent energy crashes and mood swings.
  2. Growth Hormone – During fasting, our body increases growth hormones production. Growth hormone is not only necessary for physical growth but also for brain health. It promotes the growth of new neurons and supports cognitive function that impacts mood and our mental well being.
  3. Cortisol – Fasting might impact the cortisol commonly called the stress hormone. Although short term fasting may temporarily increase cortisol levels, the long term fasting can regulate cortisol production. Balanced levels of cortisol are important for managing stress and anxiety, that can make a positive impact on mood.
  4. Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)- Fasting has been proven to increase the production of BDNF, a protein that supports growth and survival of neurons. It plays a crucial role in neuroplasticity that is the brain’s ability to adapt and change. Increased levels of BDNF have been associated with improved mood. Cognitive function and overall mental well being. Although its important to know that the impact of fasting on mood can differ from person to person. Some individuals may find fasting beneficial for their mood, while others may not experience the same effects.
Conclusion – Synthesizing the mental health benefits of fasting

Fasting offers a myriad of benefits that extend beyond physical health, influencing our mental and emotional well-being in profound ways. One of the most notable effects is its ability to regulate mood by reducing stress hormones and promoting the release of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that elevate our spirits. This not only leaves us feeling uplifted but also contributes to reduced anxiety and increased feelings of calmness and relaxation in our day-to-day lives.

Moreover, fasting fosters a heightened sense of mindfulness, prompting a more conscious awareness of our eating habits. This mindfulness can lead to healthier relationships with food, enhancing overall well-being. Additionally, the discipline and self-control required during fasting periods can empower individuals, uplifting their sense of living a better life and fostering resilient mental health. Furthermore, emerging research suggests that fasting may boost brain health by improving cognitive functions, memory, and neuroplasticity, further enhancing our mental well-being.

References +
  • Berthelot, E., Etchecopar-Etchart, D., Thellier, D., Lancon, C., Boyer, L., & Fond, G. (2021, November 5). Fasting interventions for stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients.
  • Gudden, J., Arias Vasquez, A., & Bloemendaal, M. (2021, September 10). The effects of intermittent fasting on brain and cognitive function. Nutrients.
  • Wang Y, Wu R. The Effect of Fasting on Human Metabolism and Psychological Health. Dis Markers. 2022 Jan 5;2022:5653739. doi: 10.1155/2022/5653739. PMID: 35035610; PMCID: PMC8754590.
  • (PDF) the implications of Ramadan fasting for human health and well-being. (n.d.).

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