An easy, relatively painless 12-hour fast several times a week may be a key to preventing Alzheimer's disease — or at least delaying the onset of symptoms.
Several studies have suggested that fasting can have health benefits. A recent study from the National Institute on Aging found that fasting one or two days a week eases the symptoms of those suffering from Alzheimer's, and other studies have shown that fasting increases life span as well as being protective of the brain.
But most formal fasts usually last 24 hours. That's too long for most people, who don't want to deprive themselves of food or experience hunger pains for an entire day once a week or once a month.
Neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, author of "The Alzheimer's Diet," says that fasting can be much easier — a 12 or 14 hour period that takes place mainly when you are asleep. He suggests that you use the "early bird" technique to modify your diet.
"Some restaurants offer an 'early bird' special, where they offer special pricing early in the evening," he said. "But saving money isn't the only benefit. There may also be a brain-boosting effect associated with early dinners."
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When the brain is deprived of carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy, the body produces substances called ketones, which can be used as an alternative energy source. Several studies have shown that ketones have a protective effect on brain cells and can actually improve memory in patients with mild cognitive disorder (MCI) or Alzheimer's disease.
When the body has no carbohydrates to burn for fuel, it produces substances called ketone bodies (causing a state called ketosis). Not eating for 12 hours can cause a mild state of ketosis in many people.
If you normally wake up at 6 in the morning, try to eat your last meal at 6 p.m. the night before, says Dr. Isaacson. "This means no late-night snacking!"
"Since there's evidence that ketosis may have anti-aging effects on the brain, trying this approach several days a week may be a reasonable option, as long as your physician approves," says Dr. Isaacson.
"The ketone bodies that are produced while having this mini-fast can actually be protective of the brain," he said. Basically, for two or three hours a night, the brain isn't aging.
"You're doing something protective to slow aging," he said, adding that if a person is in good health, a mini-fast is something anyone can do to lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's.
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