Why fasting bolsters brain power

Written By Claire C

In this TED Talk, Mark Mattson, who currently serves as the Chief of Laboratory Neuroscience at the National Institute of Aging, discusses how intermittent fasting is good for your brain.  He discusses both anecdotal and evolutionary evidence that fasting improves mental efficiency.

The Bird’s Eye View:

  • Scientific progress in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases means that more people are living into the “danger zone” for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s 
  • Commonly known that scientists can increase lifespan in lab animals by restricting their energy intake
    • By eating less at each meal or intermittent fasting
  • Mattson describes how intermittent fasting can help improve brain functioning using both anecdotal and evolutionary evidence
  • Describes various fasting regimens they use in the lab
    • Restricting your eating to 8 hours per day
    • Alternate day fasting
    • 5:2 diet (eating normally 5 days a week and consuming less than 600 calories the other two days)

A More In-Depth View:

  • Explains that obesity is a risk factor for many of the neurodegenerative diseases associated with aging 
  • Discusses The Fasting Cure by Upton Sinclair (which you can find here)
  • When you fast your energy metabolism shifts to allow you to burn fats rather than only burning glycogen stores 
    • If you eat too frequently, these glycogen stores are never depleted and you can’t burn fats as efficiently
  • Believes fasting induces adaptive stress responses in the brain
  • From an evolutionary perspective, need neural pathways to be more active when nutrient deprived to allow you to find food

Other Fasting Flamingo Resources You Might Enjoy:

  • The Hungry Brain – Book Summary
    • This book was clearly written by a PhD — it is not a light one AND as a result, it has the most comprehensive explanation we have ever seen for how our ancient brains are hijacked by our modern world of abundant sugar, processed food chemicals, and marketing tactics.
  • Life in the Fasting Lane – Book Summary
    • A great primer on living fasting as a lifestyle; an excellent choice for beginners, but still enjoyable for a more experienced faster as it includes some refined approaches and new personal stories.
  • Do People Regret Their Unhealthy Behaviors?
    • This article by Louise Lee discusses some of the psychology behind guilt related to unhealthy behaviors. It specifically analyzes current research regarding the role of regret in dietary choices. 

Want to learn more?

Youtube Description:

Mark Mattson is the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. He is also a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University. Mattson is one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.


In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

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