It’s no secret that we all want to live longer, happier, and healthier lives. It’s also no secret that we want to live longer while looking great in the process. One of the best ways to achieve anti-aging is through a physiological process known as autophagy. But what is autophagy and how can you know whether or not your body is going through the process?
Is Autophagy a Real Thing?
While searching for ways to prevent the dreaded side effects of aging, we try numerous supplements, diets, skincare routines, and workout regimens. Most of the time, we never stop to think about what's going on in the body to help reverse aging and improve longevity. Autophagy is one of the primary ways the body fights to improve longevity.
The term "autophagy" was coined by Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve in 1963 based on his discovery of the functions of lysosomes. The term comes from the Greek derivation of ‘self-eating’. This is because the process involves cells cannibalizing themselves in order to continue living.
What is Autophagy?
Scientists and researchers around the world have been working for decades to better understand autophagy and how to induce it. Autophagy explained may sound confusing, as there are many steps involved in the process and still many unknowns. However, we do know that the process is used as a mechanism through which the body can remove dysfunctional parts of a cells and recycle them driving cellular repair, cleaning and renewal.
The main purpose of the process is to remove debris and self-regulate back to optimal smooth function. It is believed that this process happens in the absence of external sources of food. The body begins to eat itself, replacing damaged cells in the process. Certain compounds, such as spermidine, can expedite this process.
Is Autophagy Good or Bad?
When you hear that autophagy is basically cells cannibalizing one another, it’s easy to think that it sounds harmful for your body. However, autophagy is quite beneficial and something scientists believe you should be striving for. While it’s still unclear how exactly autophagy creates some of these benefits, here are some benefits of autophagy:
- Removing toxic proteins from the cells that can cause diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- Recycling residual proteins
- Providing energy and building blocks for cells
- It promotes regeneration and healthy cells
It is also widely believed that autophagy plays a big role in preventing and treating cancer as well. This is because the body recognizes and removes potential cancer cells using an autophagic process. Because of that, researches are looking at the possibility that autophagy may lower the risk of cancer.
How to Induce Autophagy
Now that we have established what it is and how it can be beneficial, it’s time to consider autophagy methods and autophagy inducers. There are three main ways you can help induce autophagy through your diet. Lack of time eating, lack of calories, and lack of nutrients can all help induce the process. Here are some foods that promote autophagy:
- Green tea
- Certain mushrooms
- Foods high in spermidine
Spermidine can induce autophagy through the inhibition of several acetyltransferases, including EP300, which is one of the main regulators of autophagy. It is also believed that spermidine treatment can help restore normal autophagy in those with low autophagy production.
How to Measure Autophagy at Home
It can be difficult to measure autophagy at home, especially if you aren’t a trained and experienced scientist or researcher. It is believed that you can monitor autophagy through direct observation of autophagy-related structures or quantification of autophagy-lysosome-dependent degradation of proteins and organelles. While it may be difficult to properly measure autophagy, here are some signs of autophagy:
- Low blood glucose - When your blood sugar drops, your body raises cortisol, growth hormones, and ketones. This can enable the beginning of autophagy
- Elevated ketones - As your blood sugar lowers, your ketones elevate
- Weight loss - Autophagy helps with fat oxidation, which means weight loss can be a sign of the process
- Reduced appetite - If you’re not hungry, even while fasting, then your body may be producing ketones that will begin to feed your brain and body. You are essentially eating your own body fat and therefore do not need to get hungry
When fasting or dieting, be on the lookout for these signs. These signs can let you know that your body is in the process of autophagy.
Dry Fasting Autophagy
As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to induce autophagy is by limiting the amount of time you eat. This is why eating one meal a day for a month, or OMAD autophagy has become an increasingly popular trend. When fasting, your body will drop insulin while increasing glucagon.
However, it should be noted that fasting to induce autophagy isn’t as simple as skipping out on breakfast or not eating that midnight snack. In fact, many people resort to dry fasting, meaning they completely forgo on drinking any water. Instead, they get their water from food sources such as fruits and vegetables. We will discuss whether or not drinking water can impact autophagy later in the post.
How Long Do You Need to Fast For Autophagy?
As mentioned earlier, it is very difficult to measure autophagy outside of a lab environment. Therefore, it’s difficult to determine exactly how long you need to fast to induce autophagy. However, many experts believe that the process initiates after 18-20 hours of fasting, with maximal benefits occurring once the 48-72 hour mark has been reached.
Not eating for a whole two-to-three days may seem extreme. That’s why experts suggest not regularly fasting for this long. Instead, it’s recommended that you regularly practice intermittent fasting while fasting for 48-72 hours once or twice a year. As is the case with most other diets, consult with your doctor to ensure fasting is safe.
What is Allowed During Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is the process of cycling periods of fasting and eating. Many experts recommend fasting every day for 14-16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to 8-10 hours. During these 8-10 hours, you can fit two to three meals to reach your calorie goal. While it may seem obvious what is and isn’t allowed during intermittent fasting, here is what you can consume on an intermittent fasting autophagy diet plan:
- Non-caloric beverages
- Some intermittent diets allow small amounts of low-calorie foods
- Supplements with no calories
During your eating periods, you should focus on eating healthy plant-based foods that are high in nutrients. By eating these foods, you can maximize the benefits of fasting.
What Happens to Your Body When You Fast 16 Hours?
The most popular form of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 diet. As mentioned earlier, on this diet you have a 16-hour window where you do not consume food and an 8-hour window where you can consume food. Here are some of the stages of intermittent fasting:
- 12 hours - Your body enters ketosis
- 18 hours - Your body switches to a fat-burning mode
- 24 hours - Your body begins the autophagy process, recycling old cells with new ones
- 48 hours - Your growth hormone levels are five times higher
- 54 hours - Your insulin has dropped low and your body becomes increasingly insulin-sensitive
By fasting, your body is essentially forced to create energy by devouring old and damaged cells. This process creates numerous health benefits.
Can I drink Water During Autophagy?
We briefly touched on dry fasting, which is the process of forgoing water, instead choosing to get the water you need through vegetables and fruits. There have been studies conducted on animals that have found that water fasting can help promote autophagy. However, there have been very few human studies on water fasting and its effects on autophagy and disease prevention.
More research is needed before we can definitely say that water fasting is a way to promote autophagy. If you are practicing intermittent fasting, you are allowed to drink water, even during the fasting cycle of your diet. Hydration is incredibly important, so even if you plan on practicing dry fasting, be sure you are eating enough fruits and vegetables to get the hydration that your body desperately needs.
Does Autophagy Make You Look Younger?
We have established the effects autophagy has on disease prevention and longevity, but what about autophagy and aging? It’s great to feel better and live longer, but can this process also help you look younger? Without autophagy, you age faster, lose your hair faster, gain weight quicker, and wrinkle easier. All of these can make you look much older.
Autophagy makes sure that the cells that keep you looking your age - or younger - will be healthy and refreshed. It can also help repair injuries, make your brain function better, help with muscle growth and fat loss, and can even assist your ability to walk and breathe. To keep it simple - autophagy helps you feel and look younger.
Does Autophagy Tighten Loose Skin?
One of the most dreaded side effects of aging is wrinkles and loose skin. Fortunately, autophagy has a direct effect on skin aging, and inducing the process can help tighten your skin and reduce the amount of loose skin on your body. It supports the processes that keep your skin more elastic and able to tighten up faster.
Also, when you lose weight, it’s almost inevitable that you will have some loose skin. Autophagy can help your skin adapt to the new weight quicker. This means your skin will tighten up quickly, reducing the amount of loose skin on your body.
Supplements that Support Autophagy
To reiterate, the three main ways your diet can induce autophagy is by reducing the amount of time spent eating, reducing the number of calories consumed, and reducing the number of nutrients consumed. Your diet is the best way you can induce autophagy. You can maximize your results by pairing your diet with regular supplements. Here are some of the supplements that support autophagy:
- MCT oil
By taking spermidine supplements every night with your dinner, you will not have to worry about consuming the amount of spermidine you need through food. This makes it much more likely that you consume your recommended daily intake.
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