What is Autophagy?

Autophagy: Removing unnecessary proteins from your cells.

Autophagy has become a buzz word associated with fasting regiments and longevity. You may have heard health coaches using it talking about dieting or maybe you’ve read about it in the press. Even if you haven’t heard of it before this article, we’re here to break it down and explain its value. We’re a science company, our goal is to provide education for science-focused individuals and non- scientists alike.

Let’s begin: Imagine you live in a cluttered cabin and your cabin is heated with a fireplace.

Your cabin is cluttered with broken wooden furniture that you could use for your fireplace, but instead, you keep the broken furniture and continue going outside to get firewood.

Currently, because your cabin is cluttered, you move slower in order to achieve your day to day tasks. You have to crawl around the broken furniture and it sometimes hides other broken items in your house.

One day, a snowstorm hits and you cannot leave to get firewood. You now have no option but to clean out the old wooden furniture from your cabin.

You begin by throwing the broken furniture into the fire. The more furniture you throw in, the quicker you start to move around your cabin. As you move quicker, you identify not only the broken furniture but the old furniture that you’ve wanted to replace anyway. While you continue cleaning and optimizing your cabin, you begin to create processes that will help you stay more organized in the future.

The snowstorm finally ends and not only is the clutter gone, but you’ve gotten rid of everything that you should have a long time ago. Your cabin is free to be upgraded and optimized.

Let’s say your cabin was still cluttered and a mouse snuck in. This mouse wasn’t wanted and it came with fleas and ticks. If your cabin was cluttered, you wouldn’t be able to see the mouse or react quickly enough. The fleas and ticks would infect everything in your cabin. If your cabin was decluttered, you would be able to spot the mouse right away and get it out of your cabin before any damage was caused.

The process of cleaning your cabin and using the old and broken down furniture for your fire (or cell’s energy)is the process of autophagy. Intermittent fasting (or snowstorm) is what triggers the process of autophagy. Autophagy allows your cells to regenerate and work at their most optimal levels.

Autophagy is the process of mediating the breakdown of cellular components in lysosomes (putting wood into the fireplace) and assuring the removal of dysfunctional proteins and organelles (our broken furniture, cluttered cabin, and flea/tick ridden mice). It is activated in response to cell damage but operates at it’s most optimal level when cells are starved (or through a process like fasting). When cells are starved and autophagy is activated, cells reutilize their own constituents/proteins for energy, starting with unnecessary proteins first (toxins, waste, etc.). In short, Autophagy relieves different types of cellular stress.

Stay tuned for more information regarding autophagy, how it relates to our body, how autophagy is related to longevity and health, how autophagy plays into immunity and cardiovascular aging, we’ll also introduce to new term spermidine and the role it plays in autophagy.

So, how does autophagy relate to longevity and health?

Simply put, when autophagy is working at optimum levels, your cells are able to focus on preventative support instead of fixing problems after they occur in your body.

Autophagy is a fundamental process to ensure cardiac and vascular health during aging, specifically in relation to cardiovascular disease. According to the Cardiovascular Aging Compendium study titled, “Autophagy in Cardiovascular Aging”, “Autophagy is a fundamental process to ensure cardiac and vascular health during aging” and carries therapeutic importance.

This study focused on evaluating autophagy and it’s association with life and healthspan extension. They found that caloric restriction or compounds that can mimic caloric restriction (like spermidine, metformin, and rapamycin) are “among the most promising cardioprotective interventions during aging.”

“Accumulating evidence suggests that aging is a pliable process and that autophagy is a fundamental (and inducible) mechanism for the maintenance of cardiovascular homeostasis during aging.” (Abdellatif, 2018)

According to the paper, Can Autophagy Promote Longevity “Organismal lifespan can be extended by genetic manipulation of cellular processes... Longevity‐promoting regimens, including caloric restriction… have been associated with autophagy (a cytoprotective self‐digestive process) and in some cases were reported to require autophagy for their effects… Clearing cellular damage by autophagy is a common denominator of many lifespan‐ extending manipulations.” (Madeo)

What the authors concluded was that nutrient depletion (intermittent fasting) triggered “autophagy improves cell survival and hence enhances cellular fitness, whereas its inhibition precipitates bioenergetic failure and cell death. Suppression of autophagy by knockout or knockdown of essential Atg (autophagy-related) genes often leads to apoptotic or necrotic demise of cells that would otherwise survive in conditions of elevated stress ” (p.1)

Your cells are the foundation for body health. If your cells are weak and unhealthy as they age, your body will become weak and unhealthy. What the research team has concluded is triggering the process of autophagy through manipulations of the cellular process (intermittent fasting) improves cellular survival and enhances cellular fitness, which is a common denominator for longer lifespans.

Where does spermidine fit in?

Spermidine naturally triggers autophagy. As we age, our ability to produce natural levels of spermidine decreases, and one of our only other options to stimulate autophagy is intermittent fasting. Unfortunately, intermittent fasting isn’t an appropriate option for everyone. Those who are at health risk, pregnant, or sick should not fast. Until recently, that left them with no way to naturally replenish their spermidine levels. Scientists have discovered that supplemental spermidine has the same effect as intermittent fasting in regards to autophagy.

Spermidine supplements are an option for those looking to support cellular health without worrying about the stressful side effects of intermittent fasting.