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Is Intermittent Fasting A Natural Solution For Depression?

Intermittent fasting has positive effects on the body and brain, improving mood and lessening symptoms of depression.
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Summary

Depression is common in women, especially those aged 25-44. Unlike normal sadness, depression lasts for weeks, months, even years. Depression left untreated can be debilitating to a woman’s everyday life and lead to social anxiety and self-imposed isolation.

Many physical, emotional, and situational factors may contribute to a woman’s depression. Intermittent fasting has positive effects on the body and brain, improving mood and lessening symptoms of depression.

Written by
Jill Lebofsky
15+yr Women's Wellness Expert, Holistic Menopause Support, Intermittent Fasting, Midlife, Essential Oil, Author, Speaker

At some point in a woman’s life, she will feel sadness. It is inevitable.

Feeling sad is an emotion. But when sadness lingers for a couple of weeks or more, it is considered depression. Depression isn’t an emotion, it is a mental disorder, and if left unattended, it could interfere with a woman’s everyday activities.

Intermittent fasting may help improve both the physiological and psychological symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of depression

Woman sitting on a bed in the dark.
  • Sadness that doesn’t improve in a couple of weeks
  • Anger
  • Exhaustion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating changes
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Not enjoying things or lack of interest in activities that once brought pleasure
  • Unexplained pain
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt for no reason
  • Thoughts of death and/or suicide

 

Contributing factors to depression in women

Depression can affect any woman regardless of race, age, or financial status.

Approximately 12 million women every year are diagnosed with clinical depression in the United States (1).

Women are more likely to experience depression than men, especially younger women ages 25-44 (2).

Many factors may contribute to a woman’s depression, including:

  1. Age
  2.  Hormones (PMS, menopause)
  3.   Genetics
  4.  Medications
  5.   Illness
  6.   Reproductive issues
  7.  Personal conflicts
  8.  Death of a loved one
  9.   Abuse
  10.  Social isolation

 

Intermittent fasting and depression

Intermittent fasting may be a natural support for women experiencing depression. There are different methods of intermittent fasting, but all include periods of no eating and/or calorie restriction.

How does intermittent fasting affect the brain?

BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a protein in the brain that plays a vital role in neuronal (brain cell) survival, growth, and plasticity. There is usually a large amount of BDNF proteins found in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that affects learning, memory, and mood (3). People with depression have less BDNF. The hippocampus shrinks in size due to this decreased BDNF. A smaller hippocampus is associated with depression (4, 5).

Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase BDNF (6). One study looked at the effects of three months of intermittent fasting on creating new neurons in the hippocampus in mice. It looked at daily fasts of 12 and 16 hours, as well as alternate day fasting. The study revealed that while all three methods of intermittent fasting showed an increase in BDNF, only the 16/8 method of fasting caused a significant increase in the synthesis, modification, and regulation of the BDNF proteins (7).

One can conclude that intermittent fasting can improve depression due to the increase in BDNF, which allows the hippocampus to achieve optimal function.

Another effect of intermittent fasting on brain function is an increase in the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin when you are fasting. Increased ghrelin levels have been associated with an elevated mood. Ghrelin is a natural anti-depressant, as it triggers the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus (8).

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The psychological effects of intermittent fasting on depression

Sad looking woman, resting her head on her arm.

For many women, food is a prevailing thought throughout the day. Whether figuring out what to eat or not eat or beating oneself up for overeating, food thoughts can be all-encompassing and detract from life’s joys. Depression compounds such thoughts. Often women will turn to food to lift their mood. Poor food choices or overeating during these times results in extra pounds, which often leads to even more emotional issues. 

Multiple studies show intermittent fasting improves mood and depression (9, 10).

Intermittent fasting relieves the mental anguish of food. By having a set amount of time to eat, one isn’t food-focused all day, the pressure to eat is reduced, and one can enjoy other things.

Join this online community of intermittent fasting women to get the support you need as you adopt an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

 

The takeaway

Depression in women is common due to many different physiological and psychological factors. Intermittent fasting has been shown to have positive effects on the part of the brain responsible for mood. In addition, when in a fasted state, ghrelin hormone levels increase. Ghrelin has been found to have an anti-depressant effect. Intermittent fasting also allows you to take a break from obsessive food thoughts. You have a set schedule, so you aren’t as food-focused.

Intermittent fasting allows the physical changes that occur in the body and brain to counter the causes of depression, and at the same time, it lets your mind relax about food so you can enjoy life.

References:

1.     Depression in Women, Mental Health America, https://mhanational.org/depression-women

2.     Albert PR. Why is depression more prevalent in women? J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2015;40(4):219-221. doi:10.1503/jpn.150205

3.     Miranda M, Morici JF, Zanoni MB, Bekinschtein P. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor: A Key Molecule for Memory in the Healthy and the Pathological Brain. Front Cell Neurosci. 2019;13:363. doi:10.3389/fncel.2019.00363

4.     Yu H, Chen ZY. The role of BDNF in depression on the basis of its location in the neural circuitry. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2011;32(1):3-11. doi:10.1038/aps.2010.184

5.     Videbech P, Ravnkilde B. Hippocampal volume and depression: a meta-analysis of MRI studies. Am J Psychiatry. 2004;161(11):1957-1966. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.11.1957

6.     Mattson MP. Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective. Annu Rev Nutr. 2005;25:237-260. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.25.050304.092526

7.     Baik SH, Rajeev V, Fann DY, Jo DG, Arumugam TV. Intermittent fasting increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain Behav. 2020;10(1):e01444. doi:10.1002/brb3.1444

8.     Walker AK, Rivera PD, Wang Q, et al. The P7C3 class of neuroprotective compounds exerts anti-depressant efficacy in mice by increasing hippocampal neurogenesis. Mol Psychiatry. 2015;20(4):500-508. doi:10.1038/mp.2014.34

9.     Hussin NM, Shahar S, Teng NI, Ngah WZ, Das SK. Efficacy of fasting and calorie restriction (FCR) on mood and depression among aging men. J Nutr Health Aging. 2013;17(8):674-680. doi:10.1007/s12603-013-0344-9

10.  Fitzgerald KC, Vizthum D, Henry-Barron B, et al. Effect of intermittent vs. daily calorie restriction on changes in weight and patient-reported outcomes in people with multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2018;23:33-39. doi:10.1016/j.msard.2018.05.002

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