by Erik Reis, DC, DACNB, CBIS
I have yet to meet a patient who told me exactly how to fix them after their injury. Why? Because every single person has different needs, requirements, and issues that need to be addressed in some capacity. Some may require specific therapies, while others might need a detailed nutrition program. Others might need counseling, whereas others may need care from other providers to create an integrative approach to healing. Regardless of these individual requirements, all patients inevitably share one thing in common: Their hope of recovery.
And while this may sound simple, as most of you know, it isn’t always easy. Healing from a brain injury isn’t always guaranteed and can be full of many ups and downs before finding answers to the endless number of questions one may have. But that doesn’t mean answers aren’t out there. Thinking outside the box can be very beneficial when you have yet to find a solution to your problems.
The brain isn’t binary, yet we know a tremendous amount of information regarding it related to function and steps towards recovery. And this is where the rubber meets the road because regardless of the amount of knowledge one may have about clinical neuroscience, it comes down to taking action and implementing strategies for healing and recovery.
These strategies don’t have to be earth-shattering, as very few need to be, because once we understand some basic metabolic principles of the brain and body, we can start to develop a program for healing. And this is where intermittent fasting (IF) comes into play.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a cyclic pattern of eating where you switch between periods of eating and periods of fasting. It can consist of specific time intervals (12, 16, 18, and even 24 hours) and carries no limitations on what types of foods you can eat, as long as you do not ingest any calories during your fasting timeframe. Most protocols suggest starting in the evening and ending the following day because most of the fasting process will occur while you’re asleep, easing any feelings of hunger or energy crashes that may occur along the way. This also allows the novice user to ease into a fasting protocol, which can improve compliance and facilitate consistency over time.
In most instances, sugar-free drinks such as coffee, herbal teas, and even lower doses of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil are tolerated to alleviate any hunger pangs. Caffeine has also been shown to further enhance the beneficial effects of fasting, as it carries the potential to increase the brain and body’s ability to use ketones for fuel instead of glucose.
Intuitively, this may sound like a punishment, but many people report feeling higher energy levels, improved mood, greater mental clarity, and enhanced sleep. Why? Because fasting has a diverse spectrum of healing benefits.
Fasting Does A Body Good
Although it may sound counterintuitive, fasting is very beneficial for our brains, bodies, and gut. First, fasting helps us balance our blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity, which is a big deal considering 42.4% of our adult population in the United States is considered obese. And even if you aren’t obese, increasing insulin sensitivity can be very beneficial for cellular growth and repair, as these mechanisms also enhance protective mechanisms within our DNA. It can also trigger beneficial changes in inflammatory makers including c-reactive protein (CRP) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-𝛂), along with improvements in the circulating levels of adiponectin, leptin, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Breaking down food in the stomach and absorbing nutrients in the digestive tract is a highly demanding and energy-intense process. Fasting allows the body to take a break from digestion, allowing the body to allocate this energy to increase reparative processes globally.
Fasting can also help optimize circadian rhythms, which can become dysfunctional with injuries and head trauma. And although these circadian rhythms are commonly associated with sleep, they also affect the gut microbiome, positively altering the diversity and concentrations of beneficial bacteria.
Your Brain Loves Ketones; It Hates Inflammation
Your brain is primarily fueled by glucose, but following a traumatic event, energy-producing mechanisms dependent on blood sugar become dysfunctional, triggering a destructive neuro-inflammatory cascade. These energy-producing processes are flexible, which is why the utilization of ketones from fasting can be so beneficial in promoting healing and recovery.
Intermittent fasting, when utilized for extended periods, causes glycogen stores within the liver to become depleted and promotes the production of ketones via lipolysis from fat cells. These ketones subsequently become the primary fuel source for our cells. They can even downregulate pathways that utilize glucose, allowing time for healing and recovery in these pathways that become damaged or dysfunctional due to injury.
Luckily, ketones can be used as a primary fuel source for neurons, facilitating fat loss and decreasing overall inflammation levels. And since excessive visceral and subcutaneous fat has been correlated with altered cognitive processing and reduced volume of the medial temporal lobe, fasting can serve multiple purposes for optimizing the brain and nervous system.
Fasting also upregulates cellular autophagy, a process where new cells replace old cells, which become dysfunctional with conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Some studies even point to signs showing intermittent fasting can promote the growth of new neurons within the hippocampus, which could significantly improve treatment outcomes in Alzheimer’s, dementia, and medication-resistant seizures.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The best part about fasting is that it’s free, effective, and can be easily implemented into a daily routine. When done once or twice a week, fasting can yield significant health benefits. Still, it should always be done underneath the supervision of a licensed medical provider to ensure adequate follow-up and consideration of medical history.
So, if you are looking to fast-track your road to recovery, take a back seat and give your brain and body some time to repair through intermittent fasting.
Dr. Erik Reis is a chiropractic physician and board-certified chiropractic neurologist at The Functional Neurology Center in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He holds a diplomate in neurology from the American Chiropractic Neurology Board and is a certified brain injury specialist (CBIS) with the Brain Injury Association of America. He has completed numerous hours of additional post-graduate coursework utilizing clinical applications and therapeutic interventions in the neurological and nutritional rehabilitation of traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and vestibular disorders through the Carrick Institute of Clinical Neuroscience. www.theneuralconnection.com