Autophagy Fasting: The Mystery Explained

Dr. Boz [Annette Bosworth, MD] says:

AUTOPHAGY ‘to eat thyself.’ Recycle the cellular parts that are damaged or not being used.

In this video I talk about Autophagy and how to achieve Autophagy through Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent Fasting is a great way to get into a Keto Diet and ultimately what you need to do to achieve Autophagy.

 Note, though the video is longish, it contains useful information about Intermittent Fasting, Autophagy, and more! 

How to Define Autophagy: Autophagy Definition

Autophagy is the body’s process of cleaning itself. That is, it is the body’s consumption of its own tissue. 

Old, diseased and worn-out cells are found, consumed and broken down. The ‘parts’ are then recycled to be used in new cells. Think of it as a process of cellular renewal.

This process takes place during times of bodily stress, for example, when the body is deprived of food, and is also a response to the presence of toxins in the body. This ‘self-eating’ process nourishes us temporarily while we find more food. This self-cannibalism has evolved in order to protect our bodies and help us to survive.

Benefits of autophagy

Autophagy is a really helpful process that takes place in the body and it has been shown to benefit us in various different ways. 

  • It destroys the bacteria and viruses that lead to infection. 
  • It may prevent normal cells becoming cancerous.
  • It improves your metabolism.
  • It removes the damaged cells that lead to inflammation.
  • It protects the nervous system and improves cognitive functioning. 
  • It removes damaged proteins that are associated with neurodegenerative diseases from cells (such as Parkinson’s and dementia.) 
  • It supports heart cell growth. 
  • It prevents healthy organs and tissues from damage.
  • The process repairs muscle tissue.

Indeed, studies have shown that if autophagy isn’t working properly in the body, tissues degenerate more quickly than normal. Clearly, this is a vital process and one that is likely to improve health and lengthen lifespan. 

Wouldn’t it be helpful if we could make this process occur more often, rather than just as a response to stressors? 

Research is being carried out into potential pharmacological ways of stimulating autophagy, so far though, the only true evidence for helping this process along is exercise and by putting our bodies in a starved state.

Autophagy and fasting

Autophagy is a natural process that is occurring all of the time. And the more our bodies engage in it, the more we benefit. 

Autophagy: Benefits of fasting

Given that autophagy is a process that happens in times of bodily starvation, it stands to reason that we should be able to initiate it through intermittent fasting. Scientific studies indicate that this is indeed the case, as this lowers liver glycogen, which is essential. The evidence suggests that when calories are restricted, genes are turned on which conserve resources.

It is, however, important to remember that many of the studies that have been done in this area are rat and mice studies. This means that there is a need for more research in humans, as mice have a higher rate of metabolism than humans. 

Nevertheless, the existence of gaps in the research does not mean that we do not have some knowledge on the overall benefits of this process. And as well as the positive consequences of autophagy that we’ve mentioned above, some more beneficial results of fasting in general are: 

  • It reduces blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. 
  • It improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 
  • It assists with weight loss. 
  • It increases growth hormones, which play a role in lots of different protective and health-boosting functions. 
  • It has the potential to improve longevity. 

Obesity causes and consequences

One of the health benefits of intermittent fasting, including autophagy, is that it reduces the risk of developing health problems. Obesity is a serious issue today. It has been increasing year on year in developed countries, and it has many associated risks. 

Obesity is measured using the body mass index (BMI), in terms of whether you have a healthy body weight for your height.

A main cause of problems such as obesity is consuming too many calories. Although there are other factors which affect obesity, including genetics, medication and certain illnesses, the restriction of calories and eating wholesome foods are essential ways to address and reduce obesity.

Being obese or overweight puts extra pressure on your body in numerous ways.

Obesity health risks

Obese individuals are at increased risk of:

  • Gallbladder diseases
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Mental health problems
  • Pain
  • Low self-esteem

Physical activity is helpful for maintaining a healthy weight, a major factor in managing obesity, and for weight loss in general, is calorie restriction. This may mean that fasting has a role to play in minimising the problems which are associated with excess weight, given that fasting consists of restricting the number of calories that a person eats.

In addition, many of the health risks that are associated with obesity may be changed by the autophagy process. So, despite the need for more research, this could be a potentially useful approach for addressing obesity and weight gain, as well as protecting against other health problems.

For more, see our series on: Understanding Food and Health Problems and Awareness About Obesity, Causes And Consequences.

What is the best autophagy diet plan?

There is still a lot of research that needs to be done in this area, as it is not completely understood how this process works. Based on the information we do have, there are some recommendations about how to trigger autophagy through fasting.

It is suggested that intermittent fasting is the optimal type of fast for this particular process. This is where you severely limit your calorie intake for a set period of time, then return to eating normally after the fast is complete.

There is debate about the best length of time for this kind of fast. It is generally argued that a fast of somewhere between 24 and 72 hours for a few times a year is beneficial. 

Some people may not be able to complete this type of fast, either because of specific conditions, or their own bodily make-up. Other types of fast include water fasting, juice fasting, partial fasting (where some foods are consumed) or calorie restriction (where  you restrict calories on a few days of the week). 

There is also some debate about whether a ketogenic diet helps to induce autophagy. This is a high-fat, low-carb diet, where 75% of intake is from fat and only 5-10% from carbohydrates. Having a very low carb intake may put your body in ketosis, which is thought to start protective processes, including autophagy.

For more, see our series on: Intermittent, Water, And Autophagy Fasting: An Introduction and Eco Healthy Eating.

 

Exercise and Medical Advice

Studies have also indicated that exercise helps to encourage autophagy. However, there is not yet enough evidence for recommendations to be made as to how much and which types of exercise are the most beneficial.

Medical advice is strongly recommended for dietary and exercise changes, particularly with fasting for longer periods of time. Be cautious when combining fasting and exercise. 

This is also essential if you have cancer, as autophagy may have a role in tumor progression.

The Bottom Line

Autophagy, the self-eating process, plays a huge role in promoting health. It protects against disease, including those associated with obesity and being overweight. It may even lengthen lifespan. 

Research shows that fasting and exercise are ways of inducing this process, and although more research is needed to make concrete recommendations, this is an avenue worthy of exploration for those who want to improve their health.

It is always wise to consult a medical practitioner before fasting, especially while you are uncertain or unfamiliar with fasting.