Lose weight and remember more? Intermittent fasting may improve long-term memory

LONDON — Intermittent fasting (IF) is becoming a common practice among dieters trying to burn fat and lose weight, but a new study finds it may hold cognitive benefits as well. Researchers from Kings College London report IF helped improve the long term memory retention of a group of lab mice. Moreover, the eating routine even fostered the generation of new adult nerve cells in the mice’s brains. Study authors are hopeful their findings will mean intermittent fasting may offer similar memory benefits to humans too.

On a more technical level, after following a calorie-restrictive diet which fed the animals every other day, the lab mice displayed an increase in Klotho gene expression. Scientists often call klotho the “longevity gene.” Now, this research is showing that klotho plays a major role in the production of hippocampal adult-borne new neurons (neurogenesis).

Importantly, these hippocampal neurons are essential when it comes to memory functioning and formation. Their production gradually drops with age, partially explaining why memory issues are so common among older and elderly adults.

Fasting can refresh the brain

Researchers split the female lab mice into three groups: a control group receiving a standard diet of “daily feeding,” a daily Calorie Restricted (CR) diet group, and an intermittent fasting group. Mice assigned to the IF group were only fed every other day. The control group consumed about 10 percent more calories each day than the two dieting groups.

Over a span of three months, the mice in the IF group displayed improved long-term memory retention in comparison to the other two groups. Further brain analyses on the IF mice’s brains showed clear signs of klotho “upregulation,” or the process of cells becoming more sensitive to stimulation. Neurogenesis also increased in comparison to the CR group.

“We now have a significantly greater understanding as to the reasons why intermittent fasting is an effective means of increasing adult neurogenesis. Our results demonstrate that Klotho is not only required, but plays a central role in adult neurogenesis, and suggests that IF is an effective means of improving long-term memory retention in humans,” says Dr. Sandrine Thuret from King’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience in a university release.

Dr. Thuret has been a part of prior studies concluding calorie restricted diets may offer memory upside in humans. This new research strengthens that theory, with the next logical step being further research focusing on human participants.

“In demonstrating that IF is a more effective means of improving long term memory than other calorie-controlled diets, we’ve given ourselves an excellent means of going forwards. To see such significant improvements by lowering the total calorie intake by only 10% shows that there is a lot of promise,” notes Dr. Gisele Pereira Dias from King’s IoPPN.

The study appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.