Intermittent fasting (IF) has grown in popularity as a way to lose weight, gain muscle, and banish the belly bloat. Intermittent fasting is a method of eating where you cycle in between periods of eating and periods of fasting. There are five main intermittent fasting plans, some ranging from fasting 16 hours a day to fasting two whole days a week. The goal is to help improve blood sugar levels and boost your weight-loss goals.
But in addition to all the ways IF affects your physical health, it could also have some benefits for your mental health as well, says Abbey Sharp, RD. Intermittent fasting showed an increase in the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in rodents and monkeys, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. BDNF is a protein that acts on certain neurons, and it's important for long-term memory. It could also impact depression; a review published in Psychiatry Investigation found that decreased BDNF expression was associated with major depressive disorder in clinical studies on patients, while those who were treated with antidepressants had increased BDNF expression.
IF, specifically alternate day fasting, can also have anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that intermittent fasting reduced levels of oxidative stress and inflammation. And since research has linked inflammation to depression in mice — in addition to other physical diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in humans — IF could help lower inflammation in the body, which may possibly play a role in mental health.
That doesn't mean intermittent fasting is a cure or should even be considered a treatment for depression. As always, you should check with your doctor before embarking on any kind of mental health treatment plan. But research shows there could be a surprising mental health benefit of IF in addition to its effectiveness for weight loss.