I have to admit, it sounds strange, but according to an article in the Daily Mail it may be possible to slow down, or even prevent, the onset of dementia in elderly people if they fast for a couple of days each week. Here's an excerpt.
Fasting was a common medical treatment in the past, but now new research suggests there may be good reason for it to make a comeback. This is because it seems to trigger all sorts of healthy hormonal and metabolic changes.
Researchers have long known that cutting back animals’ calories over an extended period can make them live up to 50 per cent longer — it’s been harder to prove benefits in humans because few people can stick to this restrictive regimen.
But there’s now emerging evidence to show occasional fasting — which is much more manageable — also carries benefits. Fasting days involve eating between 500 and 800 calories (the usual daily intake for a woman is 2,000 calories, for a man, 2,500).
This intake appears to cause a drop in levels of growth-factor, a hormone linked with cancer and diabetes, as well as a reduction in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in the blood.
Meanwhile, free radicals — the damaging molecules linked to disease — are dampened down. Studies also suggest that levels of inflammation can fall. And now there is the suggestion that fasting protects the brain, too.
‘Suddenly dropping your food intake dramatically — cutting it by at least half for a day or so — triggers protective processes in the brain,’ explains Professor Mark Mattson, head of neuroscience at the U.S. National Institute On Ageing.
‘It is similar to the beneficial effect you get from exercise.’ This could help protect the brain against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
. . .
According to an article that will be appearing in the leading science journal Nature Neuroscience next month, calorie restriction can protect the cells from damage and make them more resistant to stress.
‘Part of this effect is due to what cutting calories does to appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin,’ he explains. ‘When you are not overweight, these hormones encourage growth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus.’
This is the area of the brain which is involved in laying down memories. If you start putting on weight, levels of ghrelin drop and brain cell replacement slows. ‘The effect is particularly damaging in your 40s and 50s, for reasons that aren’t clear yet,’ he says. ‘Obesity at that age is a marker for cognitive problems later.’
The good news is that this brain-cell damage can be reversed by the two-day fasting regime, although so far Professor Mattson has shown this only in rats. A human trial is starting soon. There is reason to think it should work.
There's more at the link.
There'll need to be a lot more research and testing, of course, but if it can be proved that fasting is conducive to mental health, it'll shed a whole new light on the Biblical emphasis on fasting as a spiritual exercise. Could it, perhaps, help one's spiritual life by helping one's physical processes, and one's mind, to focus more clearly on God and spiritual things? Now there's an intriguing thought!