What is autophagy?
Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells. It is recycling and cleaning at the same time, just like hitting a reset button to your body.
The word autophagy was coined by Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve in 1963, but our understanding of the process has progressed significantly in this century, and in 2016 Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won a Nobel Prize for his discoveries and research on the mechanisms underlying autophagy.
“Auto” means self and “phagy” means eat. So the literal meaning of autophagy is “self-eating.”
It’s also referred to as “self-devouring.” While that may sound like something you never want to happen to your body, it’s actually beneficial to your overall health.
This is because autophagy is an evolutionary self-preservation mechanism through which the body can remove the dysfunctional cells and recycle parts of them toward cellular repair and cleaning.
Purpose of autophagy is to remove debris and self-regulate back to optimal smooth function.
Several theories even point to its possible benefits for some kinds of cancer, autoimmune diseases, and of course, the significant impact it has on cell rejuvenation.
What are the benefits of autophagy?
The main benefits of autophagy seem to come in the form of anti-aging principles. In fact, it’s best known as the body’s way of turning the clock back and creating younger cells.
We’re just beginning to understand how autophagy works in the body, but the evidence is compelling. It states that autophagy may:
- Control inflammation, slow down the aging process and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
- Work to fight infection and support immunity.
- Help you live longer by improving the metabolic fitness of cells through the removal of damaged organelles and proteins.
At the cellular level, the benefits of autophagy include:
- removing toxic proteins from the cells that are attributed to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
- recycling residual proteins
- providing energy and building blocks for cells that could still benefit from repair
- on a larger scale, it prompts regeneration and healthy cells
Autophagy is receiving a lot of attention for the role it may play in preventing or treating cancer, too.
Autophagy declines as we age, so this means cells that no longer work or may do harm are allowed to multiply, which is the MO of cancer cells.
While all cancers start from some sort of defective cells, the body should recognize and remove those cells, often using autophagic processes. That’s why some researchers are looking at the possibility that autophagy may lower the risk of cancer.
While there’s no scientific evidence to back this up, some studies suggest that many cancerous cells can be removed through autophagy.
How can you induce autophagy?
Remember that autophagy literally means “self-eating.” So, it makes sense that intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets are known to trigger autophagy. Fasting is the most effective way to trigger autophagy.
Autophagy is directly linked to fasting. Fasting and Intermittent fasting have both been proven to be effective methods when it comes to naturally boosting the autophagy process and achieving all the benefits of this molecular recycling process.
During the night, as no food is ingested while we sleep, our body undergoes the process of autophagy. This allows the body to flush out waste and restore certain functions.
Fasting directly triggers the body’s natural cleansing process and acts as a catalyst for self-regeneration and cell rejuvenation. For this reason, over the last two years, fasting and detox diets have become popular among recommended diets for those looking to compensate for daily exposure to toxins and bad habits.
Intermittent Fasting Methods
There are several different ways of doing intermittent fasting — all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods.
During the fasting periods, you eat either very little or nothing at all.
These are the most popular methods:
- The 16/8 method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two nonconsecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.
By reducing your calorie intake, all of these methods should cause weight loss as long as you don’t compensate by eating much more during the eating periods.
Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to. It’s also the most popular.
Ketosis, a diet high in fat and low in carbs brings the same benefits of fasting without fasting, like a shortcut to induce the same beneficial metabolic changes. By not overwhelming the body with an external load, it gives the body a break to focus on its own health and repair.
In the keto diet, you get about 75 percent of your daily calories from fat, and 5 to 10 percent of your calories from carbs.
This shift in calorie sources causes your body to shift its metabolic pathways. It will begin to use fat for fuel instead of the glucose that’s derived from carbohydrates.
In response to this restriction, your body will begin to start producing ketone bodies that have many protective effects. Studies suggest that ketosis can also cause starvation-induced autophagy, which has neuroprotective functions.
Low glucose levels occur in both diets and are linked to low insulin and high glucagon levels. And glucagon level is the one that initiates autophagy.
When the body is low on sugar through fasting or ketosis, it brings the positive stress that wakes up the survival repairing mode.
One non-diet area that may also play a role in inducing autophagy is exercise. According to one animal study, physical exercise may induce autophagy in organs that are part of metabolic regulation processes.
This can include the muscles, liver, pancreas, and adipose tissue.
HOW CAN WE BE SURE THAT THE PROCESS OF AUTOPHAGY REALLY HAPPENS IN OUR BODY?
Basically, it’s pretty simple – MEASUREMENT
Modern technology allows us to measure the ketones produced during the activity of the processes that cause Autophagy including the aforementioned Diet, by measuring them and their strength, we could make an assessment of whether Autophagy occurred in our body and with what intensity.
There are three methods of measuring ketones: blood, urine and breath.
However, a comparison of these methods has shown that breath measurement is the most appropriate method of measurement when it comes to ketosis achieved with a diet, especially when it comes to the Keto Diet.
How is breath measurement practically done?
Well, in a very similar way as we measure body weight: – WITH AN INSTRUMENT that uses a unique sensor that analyzes our breath.
Autophagy has some pretty impressive benefits, but there’s no magical internal switch that turns it off and on. If you really want to reap the benefits of autophagy, you have to make inducers like intermittent fasting a regular part of your life. For healthy people, doing so is virtually all reward and no risk. However, if you have diabetes, hypothyroidism, or adrenal gland dysfunction, you should talk to your doctor first.
To fully reap the benefits of autophagy, it’s also important to pay close attention to the other foundations of a balanced lifestyle, like sleep, exercise, eating the right foods, and addressing and dealing with uncomfortable emotions.