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Could intermittent fasting help to prevent Alzheimer's?

Some people believe intermittent fasting, or dramatically reducing the amount of food you eat for short periods of time, could boost brain health.
/ Source: TODAY

Diets can help you lose weight, improve your eating habits and focus on more nutritious foods. But could one particular diet actually help fight aging — and boost your brain health?

Some people believe intermittent fasting, where you dramatically reduce the amount of food you eat for short periods of time, could boost your health and may even delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and as part of the Brain Power TODAY series, NBC News special anchor Maria Shriver took a closer look at this idea and talked to the experts.

"We find that in the animals, the intermittent fasting reduces brain inflammation," said Mark Mattson, chief of laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland. Mattson also noted that in mice studies, intermittent fasting dramatically improved heart health and prevented the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

"Intermittent fasting improves cognition, that is learning and memory, and protects nerve cells from dysfunction and degeneration," Mattson continued.

Experts agree more studies with humans are needed before we know how fasting really benefits our bodies and brains. But Peter Bowes, who participated in a study where he tried a particular fasting diet called Prolon, is a fan.

"You feel more productive... your brain is buzzing, your synapses are snapping," Bowes explained. "You've got a massive workload in front of you and you just plow through it."

There are three different types of intermittent fasting diets: The 5:2 plan is where you eat normally five days a week, then consume fewer than 600 calories two days a week. Alternate days is another method where you eat normally for one day, then fast (eat fewer than 600 calories) the next day, and repeat. Time restrictive fasting is where you only eat between noon and 8 p.m.

"We really need clinical studies to look at this," stressed Todd Morgan, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California's School of Gerontology. "But there are benefits to the cardiovascular system, obesity, diabetes — these are all disorders that can increase your risk for Alzheimer's disease."

Morgan noted the biggest challenge with an intermittent fasting diet is actually sticking with it. Bowes admitted that while he uses the diet every few months — it's not something he follows every day.

"If there is a chance that a diet like this is going to help me or prevent those symptoms from occurring and perhaps the diseases developing, it's a good reason to continue it," Bowes said.

There are other cons to consider, too. Some people may wind up bingeing on their fasting days, or might get cranky. Talk with your doctor first if you're considering trying one of these diets.