Brain Brilliance Part 1: The Simplest Way to Increase Brain Brilliance
In the first of the series, we will start with possibly the simplest way to increase BRAIN BRILLIANCE – and that is:
Don’t eat or drink anything 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Except water and/or decaf tea.
It may not be easy at first, but it is simple – and very powerful! Almost every longevity expert highly recommends this strategy. And here’s the WHY and a simple HOW:
THE WHY: Digestion vs. Autophagy
Our bodies are ‘at work’ daily, digesting every bite. The digestion process of high-quality, high-nutrient foods ultimately powers every cell in the body, leading to optimal health and peak performance. Digestion is one of the body's most extensive processes, taking 48-120 hours from the first bite to the nutrient absorption process to the final elimination. Digestion requires many of our organs to work together, including the saliva glands, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine. And, of course, the heart, lungs, brain, circulatory system, and muscles must also function throughout the digestive process.
However, during sleep, our bodies have a fascinating cleansing and rebuilding system designed to recover from the day and rejuvenate for tomorrow. This process is called autophagy and is super important for optimal brain and physical health. Thus, sleep is an essential time to shield our body from a heavy digestion effort so that as soon as your head hits the pillow, your body can get right to autophagy for recovery, repair, and rejuvenation.
Autophagy literally means “self-eating,” – which is a cellular degradation process that allows cells to destroy or recycle damaged components to generate energy and create new cellular structures. All while we are asleep! Dr. Marc Milstein, a leading brain health researcher and author of The Age-Proof Brain, explains this process on the Stanford Center on Longevity webinar:
“what happens when we sleep is that your brain inside your skull constricts a bit, it shrinks, and what it’s doing is squeezing out waste, toxins, and trash …. an amazing system called the glymphatic system … so at certain times in the night, fluid comes up from your spinal cord and washes the trash away.”
Dr. Dale Bredesen, Chief Science Officer at Apollo Health, is an internationally recognized expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases – and the first ever researcher to show groundbreaking improvement in cognition of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The Bredesen 7 biomarker and lifestyle protocol emphasizes nighttime fasting as one of the most important components impacting brain health.
Dr. Bredesen explains, “the goal is to work up to a fast that begins at least three hours before bedtime and lasts for a total of at least twelve hours daily. As the day winds down, your body requires less food to create energy, and (if metabolically healthy) it typically transitions to a fat-burning state. In addition, while you sleep, your body will undergo a crucial process of detoxification and restoration rather than digestion. Indeed, extended fasting leads to an evolutionary healing process called autophagy that occurs when glycogen stores are depleted. During this adaptive period of cellular “housekeeping,” your body recycles worn-out cellular debris to make new cellular parts and cleans out damaged cells to recreate newer ones reducing inflammation, upregulating mitochondria, and even providing a longevity benefit. Maintaining youthful cellular components is vitally important considering that aging is one of the greatest risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”
So that’s why you don’t want to eat before bed! Instead, it’s so important to get your body ready each night for this cleansing and removal of unneeded and potentially disease-producing matter in your brain and body.
THE WHY: Intermittent Fasting
When you avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime and for at least 12 hours, for example, from dinner at 7:00 pm to breakfast at 7 am, you are engaging in intermittent fasting. Around hour 12, you are in a fasted state and your body shifts from using glucose for energy to using ketones and stored fat.
Mark P. Mattson, Ph.D., has spent over three decades researching brain aging and the health benefits of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting as the Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and the lead researcher at the National Institute of Aging. In his book, The Intermittent Fasting Revolution: The Science of Optimizing Health and Enhancing Performance, Mark describes intermittent fasting as:
“An eating pattern that includes frequent periods with little or negligible amounts of food of sufficient duration to cause “fat burning.” You are in a fasted state when all of the energy (glucose) stored in your liver has been depleted, and fats released from your fat cells are then converted to ketones. In humans, the liver contains enough glucose to last no more than 12 hours, and ketone levels in the blood begin to rise. Ketones are used as a fuel … and also stimulate cells in ways that enable them to resist stress and combat disease.”
Dr. Mattson’s research shows that intermittent fasting helps neurons in the brain to be more “resistant to dysfunction and degeneration.” Additionally, his research has uncovered other highly beneficial health indicators “in ways that suggest protection against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. The brain can also benefit from intermittent fasting by reducing levels of anxiety, improving learning and memory, and protecting against common neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.”
Beyond brain health, intermittent fasting has a wide range of benefits for many diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension, and in improving cardiovascular risk factors. A 2022 review in Nutrients Journal provided an overview of the research showing the role of intermittent fasting in improving metabolism and increasing health span and longevity. The authors outlined the “multiple processes” in which “fasting depletes liver glycogen, mobilizes fatty acids from adipose tissues, and stimulates hepatic β-oxidation with a rise in ketone production (β-hydroxybutyrate). Additionally, the NAD+ deacetylase activity of sirtuins is activated, resulting in autophagy and reduced oxidative stress. Together, these pathways lead to longevity and improved health span.”
You may already be an expert at a 12-hour fast if you eat dinner before 8 pm and breakfast at 8 am. If not, now you know the tremendous benefits of eating earlier in the evening, so you have at least a 12-hour fast period. What a simple and powerful science-based strategy to enhance health and performance!
Many experts recommend more than a 12-hour fast – up to 14-18 hours or more – as many times per week as possible. These extra hours of fasting extend the benefits of the autophagy process. So, you can get started by eating dinner 15-30 minutes earlier. And/or wait to eat 15-30 minutes later in the morning.
The caveat: This is where your knowledge of your own body and its unique DNA comes into play – this type of fasting might not be right for you … especially if you are pregnant, nursing, have an eating disorder, have type 1 diabetes, take blood thinners, or if your physician recommends against fasting.
Dive In Deeper:
The effect of prolonged intermittent fasting on autophagy, inflammasome, and senescence genes expressions: An exploratory study in healthy young males (2023)
Intermittent Fasting and Metabolic Health
The effect of fasting or calorie restriction on autophagy induction: A review of the literature (2018)
Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes (2016)
Fasting for Health & Longevity Nobel Prize Winning Research on Cell Aging