Impact of Intermittent Fasting on the Brain: Drastic Changes in Gut Bacteria and Cognitive Function



In a groundbreaking study conducted at the Health Management Institute in Beijing, researchers have uncovered significant changes in gut bacteria and brain activity linked to intermittent energy restriction (IER), a weight loss method embraced by celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Kourtney Kardashian, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The findings, reported by South West News Service, reveal the impact of intermittent fasting on cognitive function and gut health.

Impact of Intermittent Fasting on Brain and Gut:

Participants in the study, who followed the IER diet involving alternating days of fasting with days of normal eating, experienced an average weight loss of approximately 16 lbs. over a two-month period.

However, the study also explored the potential risks associated with intermittent fasting, including alleged connections to Type 2 diabetes and increased mortality.

The research, newly published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, demonstrated dynamic changes in the brain-gut-microbiome axis during and after weight loss. Dr. Qiang Zeng from the Health Management Institute emphasized the highly dynamic and coupled nature of the observed alterations in both gut microbiome and brain activity.

Positive and Negative Effects:

Upon completion of the IER phase, participants exhibited decreases in the activity of brain regions implicated in appetite regulation and addiction. Simultaneously, there was an increase in the abundance of specific gut bacteria associated with attention, motor inhibition, emotion, and learning.

Dr. Zeng highlighted the interconnectedness of the brain-gut-microbiome axis and emphasized that the observed changes were a result of the IER diet. The study involved 25 Chinese men and women who provided stool samples for analysis.

Study Phases and Methodology:

The participants underwent a 32-day “high-controlled fasting phase” where they consumed dietician-designed meals tailored to their individual needs. Subsequently, they entered a 30-day “low-controlled fasting phase,” allowing for more flexibility in their food choices.

The study not only explored the impact of intermittent fasting on cognitive function and gut health but also suggested potential benefits in addressing issues related to obesity, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and liver dysfunction.

Negative Side Effects and Executive Function:

While the study highlighted positive outcomes, negative side effects were noted, particularly related to executive function. Executive function refers to cognitive abilities that play a crucial role in managing one’s thoughts, actions, and emotions. The study suggested potential challenges to the willpower needed for weight loss.

Dr. Yongli Li from the Department of Health Management emphasized the critical role of a healthy, balanced gut microbiome in energy homeostasis and maintaining a normal weight. An abnormal gut microbiome, on the other hand, can influence eating behavior by affecting specific brain areas involved in addiction.

Future Research and Questions Ahead:

Dr. Liming Wang of the Institute of Microbiology, Beijing, raised crucial questions for future research. The study sparks interest in understanding the precise mechanism by which the gut microbiome and the brain communicate in obese individuals, especially during weight loss.

Identifying specific gut microbiomes and brain regions critical for successful weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight remains a key area for exploration.

As the scientific community delves deeper into the intricate relationship between intermittent fasting, the brain, and gut health, the study provides valuable insights into the potential consequences and benefits of this popular weight loss method.

Understanding the complex interplay within the brain-gut-microbiome axis could pave the way for personalized approaches to weight management and cognitive well-being.

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