Autophagy: Your Body's Hidden Healing Superpower

September 1, 2021

Autophagy: Your Body's Hidden Healing Superpower

Even in the healthiest of bodies, cells are constantly becoming damaged. Due to various factors, including stress and natural aging, cells are damaged at an increased rate. This is where the body's natural ability to get rid of damaged cells comes into play. 

The process, known as autophagy, offers whole-body benefits, including the immune system, nervous system, heart, and metabolism. Autophagy may even promote longevity.

Here's what you need to know about autophagy, the benefits, and the best way to induce it.

What is autophagy?

Autophagy is the body’s natural way of getting rid of damaged cells and senescent cells, which have no purpose but linger inside the organs and tissues. By getting rid of dysfunctional cells, the body can generate newer, healthier cells.

Removing these cells enables the body to better self-regulate itself, which promotes optimal function. Throughout the process, the body is recycling and cleaning itself. Autophagy has also shown to improve the body’s natural survival and adaptation.

The benefits of autophagy

Everyone wants to not only look younger but feel younger as well. One of the main benefits of autophagy is its ability to turn back the hands of time. By getting rid of damaged cells, the body creates younger, healthier cells.

When the cells are stressed, the body automatically increases autophagy, which protects our health while also enhancing lifespan. 

At the cellular level, autophagy offers all sorts of benefits, including:

  • Removes toxic proteins from the cells that increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases
  • Provides energy for cells that could benefit from repair
  • Prompts regeneration and the creation of healthy cells
  • Recycling residual proteins

Outside of the cells, autophagy improves cognitive function, protects against heart disease, and enhances the immune system. Additionally, the process prevents free radical damage to the tissues and organs.

There is also research looking into the role of autophagy in treating and preventing cancer.

Fasting: The key to unlocking autophagy

When cells have sufficient nutrients from food, autophagy degrades damaged areas of the cell. However, in a fasted state, autophagy digests some of the cell components, which provides much needed energy.

Fasting also decreases glucose levels in the liver, which are stored as glycogen. Glycogen is then converted into glucose and is released into the body. After glucose stores are depleted, the liver breaks down fat to make ketones, which are another source of energy. This is known as ketosis.

Intermittent fasting and calorie reduction are not only ideal for losing weight, research has found that they also trigger autophagy.

However, for many people, fasting isn't always practical because it's not well tolerated for a long amount of time. But the good news is that fasting once a week may be sufficient to induce autophagy and therefore help you live a longer, healthier life.

How it works

Everyone's body is different, and autophagy depends on your metabolism. Depending on your body, it can take 2-4 days of fasting to induce autophagy. 

The process begins when glucose and insulin levels drop considerably. Animal studies have found that autophagy begins around 24 hours of fasting, and peaks around 48 hours.

There are many different forms of intermittent fasting that you can use. Limiting your daily eating window to 4-8 hours per day can encourage autophagy. Alternate day fasting is also an effective option for inducing the process.

A ketogenic diet, which involves eating high-fat, low-carb foods. The shift in calorie sources causes your body to shift its metabolic pathways. Instead of using glucose for fuel, the body will use fat instead.

With severe carb restriction, the body produces ketones, which have protective properties. Ketosis can cause what’s known as starvation-induced autophagy.

Fasting and keto tips for inducing autophagy

If you’re new to fasting or keto but want to benefit from autophagy, here are some tips and tricks to follow.

Fast for 24-48 hours for best results. If this isn't possible, aim to fast for at least 12-36 hours at a time. The best way to do this is by eating one or two meals a day versus eating several meals and snacks.

Space out your meals. If you eat dinner around 6 or 7PM, try to fast until at least 7AM the next day. Even better, don't eat another meal until 11AM or 12PM. As you become more experienced and comfortable with fasting, you can consider a 2-3 day fast.

Try alternate day fasting. Alternate day fasting is another great option. It involves restricting your calories to around 500 per day, and then eating as much as you want on non-fasting days.

Put your body into ketosis. The ketogenic diet is all the rage these days, especially for weight loss. Keto involves getting 75% or more of your calories from fat, and no more than 5-10% from carbs.

Eat the right foods. When following the ketogenic diet, you’ll need to make some serious changes to your diet. To induce ketosis, you must eat high-fat, whole foods such as:

  • Eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Grass-fed meat
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Vegetables are also important for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Other ways to induce autophagy

While fasting and a ketogenic diet are the best ways to induce autophagy, exercise is another option. Research has found that exercise induces autophagy in many organs throughout the body, including the liver, pancreas, muscles, and adipose (fat) tissue.

Studies are ongoing; however, it's thought that just 30 minutes of exercise could be enough to induce autophagy. To get even more benefits, consider exercising while fasting. After you get used to fasting, you may find that you're more energetic, which gives you more motivation to be physically active.

Final thoughts

Autophagy is an extremely beneficial process. Through fasting as well as a ketogenic diet, you can help your body remove waste and dead cells. Autophagy not only boosts energy levels, it also potentially fights neurodegenerative disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.

Want to learn more about autophagy and how it can benefit your health? Contact the team at Align Integrated Medical today.

Chad Woolner
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