Fasting has long been a part of human life, usually out of necessity or for religious purposes. More recently, for health reasons. Autophagy has also been a part of human life since the dawn of time but has only been tracked and researched by medical professionals in the past few decades.
With more research being done, it is obvious that fasting for autophagy offers incredible longevity benefits. This article will explain the basics of autophagy and how fasting can help induce it to give you life-long benefits.
What is Autophagy
Autophagy, in the simplest terms possible, is the process of recycling old, damaged cells and toxic waste that accumulates inside your body and using it to repair and strengthen healthy or only slightly damaged cells.
Our normal, day to day system for taking care of damaged cells is for lysosomes to break down the damaged material and export it for waste material. This is very similar to our digestive system. Any food particles that are leftover and not processed for nutrition and energy are further broken down and removed from our system as waste. The more our efficient our digestive system is at pulling out nutrients from the food we eat, the less waste is produced and the more that is put to immediate use in our bodies.
For the cellular process to become more efficient, we need special vesicles called autophagosomes to find the damaged cells before they get picked up by the lysosomes. Autophagosomes are like roaming recycling centers. Instead of bringing the waste to the garbage dump, it’s broken down on-site and recycled into something new. These new materials can be used for patching up and healing lightly-damaged cells, bringing back their youthful vitality.
This process of recycling and repair is called autophagy.
Autophagy vs Apoptosis
Autophagy uses old, wasteful, and damaged material from weak cells to strengthen the stronger cells in your body. You’ve heard of survival of the fittest? This is a cellular version.
Apoptosis, on the other hand, is cell death. Apoptosis is necessary under certain conditions, but it’s not always the best solution. Often, it’s simply the easiest solution for your cells to prevent further damage from occurring when a damaged or impaired cell starts to send inappropriate signals.
Apoptosis will also occur when or if a cell doesn’t get the oxygen it needs to survive.
Autophagy is an alternative to apoptosis. Instead of killing the cell, if it’s in the best interest of your overall health, it can repair it.
Fasting and Autophagy
The most effective and efficient way to increase the number of autophagosomes in your body, and therefore the success of autophagy, is to fast. Studies have shown as much as a 300% increase in autophagosomes after as little as 24 hours of abstaining from food.
When the fast continued for another 24 hours, the number of cellular recycling vesicles increased another 30%.
Autophagy Without Fasting
Fasting is the most efficient way to induce autophagy, but there are other options to start the process. These suggestions will also help boost the autophagic process on top of regular intermittent fasting for even better results.
- Cardio exercise. Autophagy has been proven to be induced by aerobic exercise which makes sense from a biological perspective. If we’re aerobically stressed, whether we’re running down our dinner or running on a treadmill, our body wants us to survive. Autophagy triggers autophagosomes to rush to the scene of damaged tissues, breaking down the hopeless and reinforcing the strongest.
- High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Intense exercise will initially turn off the autophagic processes, producing mTOR to build muscle instead. HIIT also causes apoptosis until you become accustomed to the regular occurrence of this type of exercise. If you’re practice HIIT a few times a week, your body will begin to trigger autophagy as a way to protect cells against apoptosis. This has to be a long-term approach to autophagy.
- Foods that promote autophagy. The following foods have been scientifically shown to trigger the autophagic process into action:
- Green tea, specifically the polyphenols, EGCG, and catechins inside the tea, actually turn on the mechanisms of autophagy.
- Coffee, both regular and decaf, suppress mTor, a growth hormone that is counter-related to autophagy. The caffeine in your coffee will also stimulate autophagy for a great combined effect.
- Ginger has been studied extensively for is cancer prevention potential and has also been shown to have a compound that suppresses mTOR, thereby allowing autophagy to begin.
- Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric,along with black pepper will signal to your body to trigger autophagy.
Ketosis and Autophagy
When you rely on fasting to induce autophagy, it will take around 24 hours for the process to really begin. Slightly longer fasts will allow the process to continue and lead to more clean up inside your body.
Ketosis will kick in around the same time, especially if you’re adapted to burning fat as fuel instead of carbs. You’ll be able to enjoy quick, significant weight loss and health improvements that last.
Outside of fasting, the Ketogenic diet has been shown to boost the effects of autophagy because the diet itself, and being in a constant state of ketosis, activates sirtuin genes. Sirtuin genes are sometimes called “the skinny gene” because they help your body protect proteins and burn fat. Together with autophagy, you’re giving your body the ultimate environment for health to flourish.
Benefits of Autophagy
If we think about the analogy of the survival of the fittest, it makes sense that we want autophagy working in our bodies as often as possible. As we age, we don’t create new cells as frequently as we did when our bodies were young and growing. It stands to reason that the strongest cells will last the longest in their healthiest state.
Populations with a high number of healthy and active seniors usually have fasting as a common practice. Along with rich, nutrition plant-based foods, fasting is common in almost all of Blue Zones around the world. Often, it’s practiced for religious purposes, but that’s not a prerequisite. It’s a free and easy practice accessible to literally every human on earth.
This process of autophagy is visible in the reduction of signs of aging. People who practice fasting throughout their lives often look much younger than their peers who don’t fast. By ensuring the health of their strongest brain cells, they’re also much less likely to develop degenerative diseases of the brain.
Strong liver cells mean efficient fat burning, strong heart cells translate into health blood pressure, and strong cells in your lungs make it easier for you to breathe under strenuous circumstances. Of course, strong muscle cells will increase physical strength.
The benefits of autophagy can be seen and felt in every cell of your body.