Health

Fasting To Treat Depression

“Fasting to Treat Depression” For over a century, fasting has
been espoused as a treatment of supposed “great utility in
the preservation of health,” especially rejuvenating the body,
but above all the mind. But fast people even just 18 hours,
and they get all hungry and irritable. After one or two days positive mood
goes down, negative mood goes up, and by 72 hours people
can feel sad, self-blaming, and suffer a loss in libido. But then something
strange starts to happen. After a few days, people experience
a “fasting-induced mood enhancement… decreased anxiety, depression,
fatigue, and improved vigor.” And that’s what studies tend
to show across the board. Once you get over the hump,
fasters frequently experience “an increased level of vigilance and…
mood improvement, a subjective feeling of well-being,
and sometimes [even] euphoria.” And no wonder, as by
then your endorphin levels may shoot up nearly 50 percent. This enhancement of mood,
alertness, and calm makes a certain amount
of evolutionary sense. Yeah, your body wants you
to feel crappy initially so you continue eating day
to day when food is available, but if you go a couple days
without food your body realizes it can’t have you moping back
in the cave—you’ve got to get motivated to get out
there and find some calories. So, can fasting be used for
mood disorders like depression? Yeah, it’s great that you
can get people to feel better after a few days of fasting,
but the critical question revolves around “the persistence
of mood improvement over time” once you start eating again. You don’t know until…
you put it to the test. Interestingly, the little published
evidence we have comes out of Japan and the former Soviet Union,
and some of it is just ridiculous. Like this study, which included
women with a variety of symptoms, which the researchers blame
mostly on marital conflict. Oh, husband not treating you right? How about a little electroshock therapy? That didn’t seem to help much, though,
so what about hunger therapy? Of course, starving those
women made them hungry, but that’s what Thorazine is for. If you keep injecting them with
an antipsychotic to calm them down, they can sail right through. So, what happened?
Who cares what happened? What would we even do
with those results? But this other study
skipped the Thorazine. Ten days of fasting, but they
also kept them in bed all day completely isolated, with no
contact with the outside world. So, if people got better or
worse it would be impossible to tease out the effects of
just the fasting component. But they did apparently get
better with efficacy supposedly demonstrated in 31 out of 36
patients suffering from depression. They conclude that fasting
therapy may provide an alternative to the use of antidepressant drugs, considering it “a kind of shock therapy.” People are so relieved
to just be eating again, to get out of solitary confinement, to even just get out of bed
they report feeling better. Yeah, but that was at
the time of discharge. How did they feel the next day,
the next week, the next month? Fasting is by definition unsustainable,
so ideally what we want to see are some kind of longer-lasting effects. So, what the researchers did was
follow-up with a few hundred patients, not just a few months later
but a few years later. Of the 69 who were evidently
suffering from depression, 90 percent reported feeling
good or excellent results at the end of the 10-day
fast and remarkably, years later 87 percent of the 62 that replied
claimed that they were still doing good. Now there was no control
group, so we don’t know if they would have done just
as well or better without the fast, and it was just self-reports,
so maybe there was response bias where you try to please the researchers,
or maybe they were afraid otherwise they’d get
sent back to the hole. We have no idea, but we
do have good evidence for the short-term mood benefits.
The question is why. In addition to the endorphins when
you fast and the surge in serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone,
there is a bump in BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, considered to play a crucial
role in mood disorders. And it’s not just because
you perk up rodents with it. Humans with major
depression have lower levels circulating in their blood stream. Autopsy studies of suicide victims
show only about half the BDNF in certain key brain
regions compared to controls, suggesting it may play an
important role in suicidal behavior. You can boost BDNF with
antidepressant drugs and electroshock,or with calorie
restriction—a 70 percent boost in levels after three months cutting 25
percent of calories out of their daily diet. But is there anything we can add
to our diets to boost BDNF levels so we can get the benefits without
the hunger? We’ll find out next.
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEfMmaq66q0

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