Even though autophagy has been determined as a major medical breakthrough in science for the last few years, not many people or doctors have heard about it, much less recommend it. A Japanese biologist, Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel prize in 2016 for unraveling the mechanism of autophagy that has led to a new paradigm in medicine and is being hailed as the discovery of the 21st century. (1) However, this important new information, which can impact our health care decisions and lifestyle, is “unknown to the government officials making health care recommendations and the physicians who care for us.” (1) Most age-related illnesses we know today are largely preventable through changes in our lifestyle and diet, and the use of supplements and revolutionary drugs. (3) We HAVE to take our health care into our own hands, do not rely on your doctor to give you ways to prevent disease.
Autophagy (from the ancient Greek word autophagos) means self-digestion or eating of self. In the human body, autophagy “is a metabolic process which cells disassemble and remove their dysfunctional components.” You’re basically recycling cellular debris and taking out the trash. It’s how the body removes and recycles dangerous, and damaged particles, as well as pathogens from your cells, thus boosting your immune system and greatly reducing your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, chronic inflammation, osteoarthritis and neurological disorders from depression to dementia.
Why should you care?
If you are over the age of 25, you are technically aging where certain biological events have switched gears that physically put you on the downward spiral of your life’s journey. You are not getting any taller, you are not moving up in shoe size anymore, your metabolism has slowed a bit, your brain neared its final structural formation, and your muscle and bone have reached its peak. The outward cues of that first wrinkle, the feeling of ten pounds heavier, the experience of low energy or insomnia have all been in development somewhere deep inside for some time. They don’t happen overnight even though it may seem that way.
It’s not all bad new! We live in exciting times for personal health and optimal performance thanks to the speed at which scientific advancements about the human body are being added to our knowledge base. Scientists understanding of the activities inside our cells has been growing exponentially and we are rapidly entering a time of controlling disease risk and lifespan.
How Autophagy works:
As we age, we are NOT very inefficient at removing waste products which can accumulate all over the body causing a number of problems. This is referred to as compromised autophagy and will lower the body’s ability to eliminate and heal from inflammation, remove the accumulation of toxins and parasitic infections. It is also studied to cause obesity, higher cholesterol, impaired brain function and create less energy so a person is less active. If you don’t have the energy to do all you want in life, you probably have compromised autophagy and an accumulation of cellular debris.
Ways to Increase Autophagy:
- Exercise – It helps set the stage for amping up autophagy by balancing blood sugar, lowering inflammation levels and burning energy so your body is forced to turn to fat for fuel.
- Exercise in a fasted state – you will be tapping into your body’s fat for energy instead of burning through the food you just ate. This will help to eliminate and break down the old worn out cells and metabolic debris
- Fasting – To gain the benefits of autophagy, fasting for at least 48 hours will allow stem cells and the immune system to do its job. It is recommended to fast 3-5 days 2-3 times per year to recycle the weak cells that are dragging you down (and gumming up the machinery), and giving you potential issues. (I recommend Prolon.com)
- Intermittent fasting – Or as some would say time restricted eating, and is one of the best ways to trigger autophagy. Contemporary eating habits like 3 square meals a day, snacking, high carb foods and processed ingredients are all anti-autophagy and they inhibit the recycling of old waste material. Even people who eat clean foods but don’t go through time restricted eating may potentially be walking trash cans. There are many sources of toxins and inflammation we get exposed to: air pollution, water, GMOs, plastics, heavy metals, and who knows what else. What looks good on the outside doesn’t mean that everything is okay on the inside. Having your autophagy pathways active is even more important for living in the modern world.
- Sleep and stress reduction – Getting the proper amount of sleep will help with autophagy, ensuring that autophagy is dialed up when it should be. And stress in general can be incredibly toxic to our bodies. Ways to control stress: plan quality time with friends, yoga, meditation and gratitude journal to name a few.
- Eliminate refined carbs – Including all “natural” sugars like honey, molasses, brown sugar, agave and maple syrup. All artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are nixed as well (stevia and monkfruit may work for some people)
- Eat fewer grains – including whole grains such as wheat, barley, rye. (And please stay away from refined flour).
- Eat more whole-food plants – focus on low-glycemic vegetables, as well as most vegetables as long as you tolerate them.
The science of autophagy may just be getting started, however, the process has been around for billions of years – before humans were here. Scientific validity has already been shown in populations of peoples in current research today. If this peaks your interest, please try some of the recommendations above, and I encourage you to take a dive into the references below, where you will also find thousands of other resources. Let me know what you think and if you have tried time restricted eating. This is my favorite way of staying healthy!
- Clement, James W., “The Switch”, 2019, Gallery Books.
- Land, Siim, “Metabolic Autophagy, 2018