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Dag Kättström

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Does Fasting Help With Depression?

We associate food with joy and positive emotions. On the contrary though, not satisfying the feeling of hunger feels very negative, but a lack of food can actually boost your mood. This is shown by both science and many people’s experience.

There aren’t many things that relieve anxiety as fast as eating something. It is deeply meaningful because our entire existence is based on our food. Large parts of the body’s organ system cooperate and cause the neurotransmitters to start dancing. This effect guarantees our survival, but also risks leading to comfort eating and becoming overweight.

But parallel to that is a system that is activated in the absence of food and stabilizes the psyche in a more long-term way. I myself have experienced it and received testimonies from people who have tried five days with a fasting mimicking diet. Alongside the boredom that arises when you are not allowed to eat the way you want, a completely different process begins.

It can express itself differently for everyone. Such as the confidence boost one receives from managing to endure the slight discomfort triggered by the lack of food. It can also lead to a sudden energy boost in the form of focus, creativity and new thoughts that emerge. And when I exit a fast, life often seems clearer afterhand. It’s like some kind of reset has happened.

I have also received emails from people who have been diagnosed with mental health issues who feel that fasting eases their symptoms. However, it is very important to point out that this is anecdotal. Fasting should not be used as a medication and you should work with your doctor if you want to try therapeutic fasting periods.

Several studies have shown that calorie restriction has antidepressant effects. The mechanisms appear to be multiple: fasting can trigger new production of brain cells and its effect on m-TOR, which I have previously written, seems to have antidepressant effects. Fasting is also a powerful way to start autophagy, i.e., an internal program that cleanses the body’s cells, and this too seems to be able to counteract depression.

There is a lot of research left to be done before we have figured out how all this is connected, but they are exciting connections. New research shows that a specific antidepressant medicine and calorie restriction affect serotonin systems in the body in the same way. Not only did the calorie restriction produce an antidepressant effect. The medicine slowed down aging in the same way as the calorie restriction.

With more knowledge of this type, we can hopefully find better treatments for, for example, the disease anorexia which tragically shows how intertwined eating and psyche are. One could also imagine that fasting can become a tool for healthcare in the same way that you prescribe exercise today. If fasting strengthens the mental resilience, eating deficiencies can complement mindfulness and exercise as a way to feeling better without medication.

This is a guest post. The opinions expressed are the writer’s own.

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