The importance of diet and the gut-brain axis for brain health and cognitive function is increasingly acknowledged. Dietary interventions are tested for their potential to prevent and/or treat brain disorders. Intermittent fasting (IF), the abstinence or strong limitation of calories for 12 to 48 h, alternated with periods of regular food intake, has shown promising results on neurobiological health in animal models. In this review article, we discuss the potential benefits of IF on cognitive function and the possible effects on the prevention and progress of brain-related disorders in animals and humans. We do so by summarizing the effects of IF which through metabolic, cellular, and circadian mechanisms lead to anatomical and functional changes in the brain. Our review shows that there is no clear evidence of a positive short-term effect of IF on cognition in healthy subjects. Clinical studies show benefits of IF for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis on disease symptoms and progress. Findings from animal studies show mechanisms by which Parkinson’s disease, ischemic stroke, autism spectrum disorder, and mood and anxiety disorders could benefit from IF. Future research should disentangle whether positive effects of IF hold true regardless of age or the presence of obesity. Moreover, variations in fasting patterns, total caloric intake, and intake of specific nutrients may be relevant components of IF success. Longitudinal studies and randomized clinical trials (RCTs) will provide a window into the long-term effects of IF on the development and progress of brain-related diseases.
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