If you were to Google the word ‘Autophagy’ today, it would throw up the following result:
“Autophagy means consumption of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process occurring in starvation and certain diseases”
That doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it? So what exactly is Autophagy and why has it become the new buzzword in wellness today?
Let’s Find Out!
“Auto” means self and “phagy” means eat. So the literal meaning of autophagy is “self-eating.” Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells. It 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.
There’s some evidence to suggest that autophagy (“ah-TAH-fah-gee”) plays a role in controlling inflammation and boosting immunity, among other benefits. In one 2012 study on mice, researchers found that autophagy protected against:
Another study from that year showed how a lack of autophagy can be harmful. Researchers found that removing the autophagy gene in mice caused weight gain, lethargy, higher cholesterol, and impaired brain function.
Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes!
Here are the three main ways to boost autophagy in your body.
There’s a great way to activate autophagy without forgoing your favourite rib eye — though you’ll probably need to quit candy.
It’s called ketosis. The idea is to reduce carbohydrates to such low levels that the body has no choice but to use fat as a fuel source. This is the magic behind the wildly popular ketogenic diet.
Keto diets are high in fat and low in carbs (steak, bacon, and peanut butter shakes are a bonus for the keto crowd). Between 60 and 70 percent of your overall calories come from fat.
Being in ketosis can help people lose body fat while retaining muscle. There’s some evidence that it also may help the body fight cancerous tumors, lower the risk of diabetes, and protect against brain disorders, particularly epilepsy. Trusted Source
In fact, in a 2018 study, rats fed a keto diet had less brain damage during seizures. Trusted Source
If staying in ketosis sounds too hard, take heart. A 2012 study noted similar benefits in people who followed a diet in which no more than 30 percent of their overall calories came from carbs.
Note: Anyone with health issues, especially kidney or liver problems, should talk to a doctor before beginning a keto diet.
Skipping meals is another stressful act that the body may not immediately love but ultimately benefits from. Research has shown there are loads of positives to an occasional fast.
One research review found that intermittent fasting and autophagy can make cancer treatments more effective while protecting normal cells and reducing side effects. Trusted Source
In another mouse study, intermittent fasting was shown to improve cognitive function, brain structure, and neuroplasticity, which is fancy-speak for the brain’s ability to re-organize and rebuild itself.
Different variations of intermittent fasting seem to show pretty awesome health benefits. A review of the research concluded that it may have an array of positive effects, ranging from a healthier body weight and lower risk of diseases to an increased lifespan. Trusted Source
Keep in mind that fasting is generally not recommended for children, for some people with diabetes or other issues with blood sugar, or for pregnant women.
Here’s the deal: Exercise puts stress on your body.
Working out actually damages your muscles, causing microscopic tears that your body then rushes to heal. This makes your muscles stronger and more resistant to any further “damage” you might cause them.
Regular exercise is the most popular way people unintentionally help their bodies cleanse themselves. (So there’s actually something to that fresh, renewed feeling you get after working out.)
A 2012 study looked at autophagosomes, structures that form around pieces of cells the body has decided to recycle. After engineering mice to have glowing green autophagosomes (as one does), scientists found something interesting.
The rate at which the mice were healthily demolishing their own cells drastically increased after they ran for 30 minutes on a treadmill. The rate continued to increase until the little guys had been running for 80 minutes.
So, what about humans?
It’s hard to figure out the amount of exercise required to switch on the autophagy boost.
Is there an easier way?
Not yet. But there’s a lot money to be made if researchers can distill the benefits of autophagy into a pill, so you can be sure they’re trying.
Just remember: You don’t have to stay in ketosis, fast, or exercise intensely all day, every day to experience these benefits. Even a few hours here and there can help!