Warrior Diet:

New Studies Support The Warrior Diet's Brain Powering and Anti-Aging Effects

By Ori Hofmekler
Author of The Warrior Diet

Following a recent phone conversation, Dr. Mark Mattson, Ph.D., chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) conducted recent studies on the effects of intermittent fasting on mice. He generously offered to send me additional documents with more compelling evidence as to the miraculous-like benefits of following a feeding cycle that somewhat parallels The Warrior Diet. Dr. Mattson also mentioned that there's a plan in the near future to conduct human experiments to determine the full impact of a daily cycle of undereating and overeating, similar to the Warrior Diet way of eating. Nevertheless, I'd like to cover here this new information with regard to the biological benefits of this feeding cycle on the brain, muscles and the overall anti-aging effect on the body.

Recent studies demonstrate that periodic fasting and undereating have profound brain powering effects.

(Conducted at the Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center, Baltimore, MD; Laboratory of Neurosciences and Comparative Medicine Section, National Institute on Aging; Department of Human Genetics; and Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD)

Recent studies have shown that both calorie restrictions (i.e., undereating) and intermittent fasting (i.e., fasting every other day), with maintained vitamin and mineral intake, can extend lifespan and can increase resistance to disease. The above studies have shown that undereating can have profound effects on brain function and decrease vulnerability to injury and diseases. Undereating can protect neurons against degeneration in animals, models of Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's Disease and stroke. Moreover, undereating can stimulate the production of new neurons from stem cells (neurogenesis) and can enhance synaptic elasticity, which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging and restore function following injury.

Increasing Time Between Meals

Interestingly, increasing time intervals between meals can have beneficial effects on the brain and overall health of mice that are independent of calorie restrictions. Scientists believe that the beneficial effects of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting (with no calorie restrictions) appear to be the result of a cellular stress response that stimulates the production of proteins that enhance neuronal plasticity and resistance to metabolic and oxidative insults. These proteins include neurotrophic factors such as BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), HSP (Heat Shock Proteins) and mitochondrial uncoupling proteins. It has been assumed that certain kinds of stress such as due to periodic fasting, undereating and physical exercise, may have similar beneficial effects on brain and muscle tissue, respectively, by stimulating regeneration of brain and muscle cells via activation of stress proteins and the production of growth factors.

Meal Frequency Effects on Anti-aging

While dietary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants may somewhat improve the health span of the brain, the above recent discoveries reveal that a more fundamental aspect of diet is emerging as a major factor in brain health. This factor, which is the focus of this article, is the time interval between feeding.

Both the amount of calories over time and the frequency of meals affect the physiology of the brain in quite profound ways. The two dietary restrictive methods that include either the reduction of overall calories, such as due to undereating, or an increase in the time between meals (with no calorie restrictions) while keeping maintenance of dietary composition in terms of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, etc., effectively improves brain performance, resistance to disease and overall aging.

Calorie Intake & Lifespan

The maximum lifespan of a range of organisms from yeast and round worms to rodents and monkeys can be increased by up to 50% simply by reducing their calorie intake. Calorie restrictions reduce the incidents of age-related cancer, cardiovascular diseases and immune deficiencies in rodents. Conversely, chronic high calorie intake over time is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease, many types of cancers, type II diabetes and stroke.

Less known is the evidence that calorie restriction reduces disease risk and increases life span in individuals that are not overweight. It has been hypothesized that chronic excessive energy production in the form of cellular ATP over time may cause cells to become damaged and "spoiled" and thereby susceptible to disease.

Primarily, in order to survive, organisms had to adapt to changes in food availability. One such adaptation is the ability to store energy in the form of glycogen and lipids. Another adaptation mechanism is activated when food supply is scarce, and the cells of organisms are forced with an energetic stress that may induce changes in gene expression that result in adaptive changes in cellular metabolism and the increased ability to resist stress.

On the other hand, when food supplies are constantly plentiful, as in most laboratory animal colonies and human population in industrial countries, individuals consume more calories or eat more meals than are necessary for maintenance of their health and therefore lose their ability to resist stress and disease.

Animals that were put on calorie restrictive diets (30 to 40 percent reductions) and periodic fasting under which they fasted every other day, and ate twice the calories the other day, have demonstrated similar metabolic changes including decrease in body temperature, decreased heart rate and blood pressure and decreased glucose and insulin levels. Most importantly, the above dietary methods have also been shown to have profound beneficial effects on the brain. For example, dietary restrictions such as the above, reduce age-related oxidative damage to proteins and DNA. Genes in which expression has been adversely affected by aging, includes those involved in oxidative stress response, innate immunity and energy metabolism, were somehow protected against age-related damage via calorie restrictions and intermittent fasting.

Among the physiological responses to the above dietary restrictions there was a decrease in body fat, an increase in IGF1 levels as well as an increase in the "good cholesterol" HDL. [Taken from data cited in Weidruch and Sohal (1997) and Lone et. Al. (1999)]

It's important to note that, increased insulin sensitivity and IGF1 levels generally mark an increase in the anabolic potential of the body to build and repair tissue.

Anti-Aging: Improved Learning Capabilities

Dietary restrictions clearly benefited mice ability to resist age-related brain deterioration. Both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting improve age-associated deficits in motor coordination and impaired learning.

Long term protection of the synaptic transmission is believed to be a cellular correlate of learning and memory. The age-related deficit in cognitive functions was largely abolished by a reduced calorie diet and intermittent fasting. In one study, rats that were maintained for three months on periodic fasting have exhibited enhanced synaptosomes function including improved glucose transport and mitochondrial functions. Positive effects of intermittent fasting on age-related cellular reductions of brain neurotransmitters were significant. The above dietary restrictions prevented age-related alternations in the levels of serotonin and dopamine in rats.

Neurogenesis: Regeneration of Brain Cells

The adult brain contains a population of cells that are capable of dividing and differentiating (converting) into neurons (neurogenesis). Stem cells in an animal and human brain may provide a cellular reserve to replace neuron that die as a result of injury or disease.

Interestingly, subtle physiological stress signals can up-regulate neurogenesis. For example, increasing rats level of physical exercise can enhance neurogenesis and thereby improve brain function while suppressing overall aging. In addition, neurogenesis and synaptic connections are affected by changes in the levels of the sex steroid hormones testosterone and estrogen [Alvarez - Buylla and Kim 1997, McEwen 2001]. Declining sex hormones may adversely affect both sexual and brain power. That fact supports the evidence that feeding cycles based on periodic fasting and overeating would likely be more beneficial than chronic calorie restrictions. The reason for that could be partly due to the positive effect of overeating (no calorie restrictions) on sex hormone levels and overall reproductive capabilities and vice-versa: chronic calorie restriction's suppressive effect on sex hormones.

Neurotrophic Effects - Protection from Alzheimer's, Epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease and Strokes

Rats maintained on periodic fasting for 2-4 months exhibit increased resistance to excitotoxic degeneration in models equivalent to Alzheimer's Disease (AD) or pathological epilepsy. This neuroprotection resulted in preservation of learning and memory ability that is normally compromised due to these conditions.

Interestingly, periodic fasting can also counteract adverse effects of nutrient deficiencies. For example, thiamine (B1) deficiencies can cause the degeneration of neurons in certain regions in the brain such as the thalamus. Rats that were maintained on periodic fasting showed increased tolerance to thiamine deficiency. Epidemiological evidence suggest that human population on lower calories or less meals during the day have a dramatic decrease in Alzheimer's disease. It has been suggested that the Spartan approach to food intake, such as by eating one meal per day, would greatly reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's Disease and stroke, the three devastating disorders that currently plague our society.

Anti-aging at the Cellular Level

Considerable evidence suggests that calorie restrictions or periodic fasting protected the brain against disease by inducing the expression of proteins that promote cell survival.

  •  Fewer meals
  •  Mild metabolic stress
  •  Physiological stress hunger
  •  Cellular stress response
  •  BTDF and other trophic factors
  •  Protein chapesones (HSPs, GRPs)
  •  Mitochondrial uncoupling proteins
  •  Neural survival
  •  Synaptic plasticity
  •  Stress Proteins & Survival

Two major classes of survival proteins are protein chaperones and neurotrophic factors.

Rats on periodic fasting exhibited increased levels of Heat Shock Protein-70 (HSP-70) and Glucose Regulated Protein-78 (GRP-78). These protein chaperones can protect neurons against excitotoxic and oxidative stress, suggesting that their increased levels contribute to the neuroprotective effects of periodic fasting. In addition to the above, studies have documented activities of several other neuroprotective factors such as nerve growth factor, brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), fibroblastic growth factors and IGF1 [Mattson and Lindwal, 1997].

In general, the neurotrophic factors protect the brain by inducing the expression of genes that encode proteins that suppress oxidative stress and stabilize cellular calcium homeostasis. As noted, scientists believe that the above beneficial effects of periodic fasting or undereating (calorie reduction) on the brain are related to cellular response to stress that may be induced by periodic fasting, undereating or physiological hunger. The above dietary restrictions caused a decrease in corticosteroid receptors in brain cells and thereby attenuated cortisol impact on the brain.

Periodic Fasting & Undereating Effects On Muscles

Parallel to the benefits of periodic fasting and undereating on the brain, the above dietary restrictions positively affect peripheral organs such as muscle and liver cells. Periodic fasting and undereating enhance muscle and liver insulin sensitivity. BDNF, which increases via the above dietary methods, have high affinity to a certain protein called IRS1, that is coupled to insulin and IGF1 receptors. IRS1 is essential for the activation of the PI3 Kinase - AKT pathway. In other words, the above dietary restrictions enhance the actions of insulin and IGF1 in the brain, muscle and liver cells and thereby help increase energy utilization, tissue repair, growth potential and overall performance. In addition to the above, a related increase in fibroblastic growth factor activates the MAP (Mitogen Activated Protein) kinase pathway, leading to further enhancement in cellular growth and tissue regeneration.

Application to the Warrior Diet

More and more evidence shows that humans and animals are destined to follow a feeding cycle that is based on periodic undereating and overeating. Recent studies suggest that such feeding cycles may have most beneficial effects on animal and human survival. The Warrior Diet, based on following feeding cycles of undereating and overeating, clearly marks an upcoming revolutionary dietary trend that could be the most effective alternative to the current dietary methods which are based on frequent feeding as well as chronic calorie or carb restrictions. The effects of following feeding cycles that include periodic undereating and overheating either on a daily basis or via macros cycles which are based on intermittent undereating (undereating every other day), have already been proven by many testimonials and anecdotal evidence to be most beneficial with regard to brain and physical power as well as over all improvements in body composition (i.e., losing a fat and building lean tissue).

As Dr. Mattson stated in a recent phone conversation, more research is needed to finally realize the full impact of the Warrior Diet feeding cycle. According to Dr. Mattson, human experiments on diets similar to the Warrior Diet are scheduled to begin in about eight to nine months from now. It would also be interesting to see the effects of exercise on the above dietary cycle. Nonetheless, in life, the issue of what comes first, the horse or the carriage, isn't always practically relevant. It seems as if the Warrior Diet gives you a wild horse to ride on first, while the planned scientific studies would bring on the carriage so you can sit more comfortably during the ride. Regardless of whether you're riding the horse or the carriage, there is only one right direction in which to go and the Warrior Diet shows you that way.

Research Report References:

R. Michael Anson *, Zhihong Guo *, Rafael de Cabo, Titilola Iyun, Michelle Rios, Adrienne Hagepanos, Donald K. Ingram, Mark A. Lane , and Mark P. Mattson, "Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition the week of April 30, 2003

*W. Duan, Z. Guo, H. Jaing, M. Ware, X-J. Li, and M. P. Mattson, "Dietary Restriction Normalizes Glucose Metabolism and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Levels, Slows Disease Progression and Increases Survival in Huntington Mutant Mice" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition the week of February 10.





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