The Lenten season is almost over and to conclude we want to open one last chapter: the effects of fasting on our psyche. Because fasting not only supports our body and our cells, but also our mental state.
How fasting affects the body and Fitness or what exactly happens in our body during fasting, we have already discussed. Today we want to take a closer look at how fasting affects our mind and soul. Because also here effects not to be despised show up.
How does fasting affect our psyche?
In general, it can be said that fasting leads to intense mental experience and can be an enriching self-awareness. One becomes more sensitive to impressions and thoughts and the ability to concentrate increases. By the conscious meal and not meal with the interval chamfering can experience chamfering besides a completely new benefit ability.
That admits also the German society for nutrition (DGE) in a statement to chamfering. It confirms positive effects regarding psychological changes. Thus according to DGE chamfered is to bring feelings of increased attention, to increase the concentration ability and generally for a increased well-being provide.
Reasons for this are probably that we take ourselves with chamfering consciously from the everyday life and reduce the own life speed, which leads also to the direct dismantling of stress. Many also use this time of reflection to reflect and decide what steps are necessary to live happier, more relaxed and healthier. Because in this time of the reduction the noticing and hearing of own body signals falls simply more easily.
So much for the practical experience of fasting. The effects of fasting on our psyche can also be scientifically explained and proven. You want to know how or where the positive effects arise? The answer: in the brain!
How does fasting affect our brain?
As a central nervous system, our brain is designed to process stimuli and to ensure a corresponding activation or reaction. For example, when our energy reserves come to an end, our body triggers a feeling of hunger as a reaction so that we eat again.
But if a stimulus cannot now be eliminated by a suitable reaction, the arousal turns into a non-specific activation that also reaches the limbic brain regions responsible for emotional reactions such as stress and fear. The result: we can't find any peace! And this stimulus overload unfortunately occurs too often in our hectic times.
So what to do?
The process of non-specific activation must be stopped. Unfortunately, however, it can only be stopped by either finding and activating a suitable behavioral response that shuts off the source of restlessness, by artificially inhibiting the transmission of excitation, such as with tranquilizers, or by stimulating a globally effective transmitter system - these include increased intake of carbohydrates or fat and - and this brings us to the core - fasting.
How does this work?
Well, one particularly effective transmitter system is the serotonergic system. Its nerve cells, localized in the midbrain, stretch like a giant tree to all areas of the brain, where their ends - called serotonergic presynapses - regularly release their messenger, the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Released three to five times per second throughout the day, serotonin influences the excitability of all downstream neurons. Thus, the serotonergic system exerts a constant and ubiquitous "harmonizing effect" on the information processes taking place in the central nervous system.
Fasting is the only known way to increase the activity of the serotonergic system in the long term. This is because abstinence from food results in increased serotonin synthesis and release by the serotonergic presynapses. What does this mean in concrete terms? Food deprivation causes more serotonin to be released, which reduces arousal states of non-specific activations such as stress and anxiety.
Eva Lischka, physician at the Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic, describes it in such a way: Fasting has a positive effect on the serotonin metabolism. The life feeling after chamfering is incomparably better than before."
Further positive effects
Another reason for the positive effects of fasting is that it leads to long-term need satisfaction. It acts on the prefrontal cortex - that area of the brain that controls future-oriented behavior. Unlike the mesolimbic system, which only releases dopamine in the short term for quick gratification like a piece of chocolate, the prefrontal cortex rewards us in the long term and additionally suppresses neuronal activity in the deeper structures of the reward system, as Oliver Gruber, professor of experimental psychopathology and imaging, knows. As a result, we don't give in to the impulse but pursue the long-term goal, and this self-control makes us happy, according to a 2013 study.
Another positive effect of fasting occurs after a few days: Food restriction decreases the number of serotonin transporters in the nerve endings of serotonergic neurons - the nerve cells in the brain. These serotonin transporters enable the transport of the neurotransmitter serotonin into the cells.
Due to the decreased density of serotonin transporters, the reuptake of released serotonin is permanently decreased. The increased concentration and longer residence time of serotonin in the extracellular space results in a longer and more extensive interaction of the neurotransmitter with downstream cells. Increased serotonin synthesis and release further enhances this effect.
How cultures have long taken advantage of the positive effects of fasting:
Yes, fasting has a far-reaching impact on us, our psyche and our brain cells. The effects are not only impressive, but also well-known. Not without reason, fasting has been deeply rooted in many cultures and religions for centuries. For example, in the traditions of the pre-Easter fasting period or the Muslim Ramadan. But medical schools have also long resorted to fasting for healing purposes. As early as the time of Hippocrates, in the fourth century B.C., people began to use fasting to treat physical and mental illnesses. And what has proven itself for so long must be good, we think.