Fasting may not be fun, but a new study suggests there's another reason to clear your plate for a set period of time and endure hunger pangs: the research suggests that the behavior may not only be good for your waistline, it could improve brain function as well, and give the nervous system a break.

Using fruit flies, scientists at the Buck Institute have revealed how nutrient deprivation, or fasting, lowers synapse activity at the junctions between neurons and muscle cells. This reduces neurotransmitter releases and allows our brain to have a moment to recharge itself.

“Perhaps it's a good thing that when nutrients are unavailable, an organism reduces neurotransmitter release and thus saves a good proportion of its overall energy expenditure," explained study co-author Pejmun Haghighi in a recent statement. "Our findings suggest that one of the reasons that fasting is beneficial is that it gives the nervous system a break and calms things down.”

Read: Fasting Diet Leads To Healthier Aging And Immune System Improvement

For the study, the team restricted protein in the diet of fly larvae, and then eventually completely removed food intake, in order to observe the effect this had on the fly’s brain activity. Within three hours of removing the nutrients, the larvae synaptic activity was halved.

The team explain that although the study was conducted on flies, the results could be very similar for humans. What’s more, this finding suggests how fasting may be particularly beneficial for individuals with brain disorders, such as epileptic patients.

"I think uncovering this mechanism is an important basic discovery that could lead to tangible ways of thinking about design of therapeutic approaches for neurodegenerative diseases in the near future," concluded Haghighi.

The benefits of fasting are clear: Along with this new study, past research has suggested that fasting may strengthen the immune system, boost mood, improve sleep, and even enhance your sex life. Unfortunately, hunger is one of the most powerful of all our instincts, so overcoming the desire to eat can be difficult. Here are some tips to help make the experience somewhat less tortuous.

Research has shown that attaching spirituality to your fasting can help make the activity easier. For example, fasting is a part of many major religions, and brain scans have shown that the prayer and meditation causes more activity in the frontal lobe, which would help individuals be more calm, less reactionary, and better able to deal with stressors.

However, if your fast isn’t religiously motivated, there are other ways to make it easier. For example, ensuring that you’re well hydrated during a fast can help reduce headaches and hunger pains. However, according to Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, drinking nutrient-rich bone broth can help to keep you satisfied during a fast, and it's better than water alone.

Source:Kauwe G, Tsurudome K, Penney J, et al. Acute Fasting Regulates Retrograde Synaptic Enhancement through a 4E-BP-Dependent Mechanism. Neuron . 2016

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