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.
Is it Safe to Be In Autophagy for A Long Time?
It is important to note that there is limited scientific research specifically focused on the long-term effects of extended upregulated autophagy in humans. Most studies have been conducted on animal models or in controlled laboratory settings. Therefore, definitive conclusions about the safety of prolonged autophagy in humans are still lacking. Autophagy is a self-regulated process in the body that occurs naturally in response to various stimuli, such as fasting or calorie restriction. It helps eliminate damaged cellular components and promotes cellular recycling. However, prolonged fasting or extreme caloric restriction can lead to nutrient deficiencies, muscle loss, and other adverse effects on the body.
It is crucial to strike a balance and prioritize overall health and well-being. Ultimately, moderation and listening to your body are key. Pay attention to any signs of discomfort, weakness, or nutrient deficiencies. Adjust your fasting practices accordingly and prioritize a well-rounded diet that provides essential nutrients for your body's optimal functioning.
The Difference Between Autophagy and Ketosis
Autophagy and ketosis are two distinct processes that occur within the body, each with its own unique benefits and mechanisms. Understanding the differences between autophagy and ketosis can help shed light on their individual roles in promoting health and well-being. Autophagy, as we've discussed, is a cellular process where damaged components are broken down and recycled for cell renewal. It serves as a cellular housekeeping mechanism, ensuring the efficient removal of cellular waste and promoting overall cellular health.
On the other hand, ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body primarily relies on fat for fuel due to the low availability of carbohydrates. During ketosis, the liver produces ketones, which serve as an alternative energy source to glucose. This metabolic shift occurs when carbohydrate intake is significantly reduced, and the body taps into its fat stores for energy.
While autophagy focuses on cellular cleanup and renewal, ketosis primarily involves a shift in energy utilization. Autophagy occurs within cells, targeting damaged components, while ketosis affects the body's energy metabolism on a systemic level. Autophagy can be induced through various means, such as fasting or caloric restriction, even without being in a state of ketosis. In contrast, ketosis is achieved through dietary changes that promote a low-carbohydrate, high-fat intake, such as the popular ketogenic diet.
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.
What are the Symptoms of Autophagy
Whether you're considering intermittent fasting, a ketogenic diet, or simply looking to enhance autophagy, it's helpful to understand the signs and symptoms that indicate your body is undergoing this vital process. Let's explore the indicators of autophagy and how they contribute to overall well-being:
Autophagy aids in weight loss by promoting fat burning. As the body burns fat for energy during autophagy, it can contribute to healthier body composition and assist in weight management.
When autophagy is activated, you may experience a reduced appetite, even while fasting. This decrease in hunger can be attributed to the production of ketone bodies, which provide an alternative source of energy for your brain and body.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity
Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Autophagy has been linked to improved insulin sensitivity, meaning your body becomes more efficient at using insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. This can help prevent insulin resistance and metabolic diseases.
Enhanced Cognitive Function
Research suggests that autophagy plays a vital role in brain health. By removing damaged cell components and promoting cellular renewal, autophagy may help improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
Autophagy is closely associated with healthy aging. By eliminating toxic proteins and recycling residual proteins, this process helps maintain cellular integrity and prevents the accumulation of cellular debris, which can contribute to chronic diseases and accelerate the aging process.
Autophagy supports skin health by promoting the removal of damaged cells and aiding in the regeneration of healthy skin cells. It can help tighten loose skin and improve elasticity, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and maintaining a more youthful complexion.
As your body enters a state of autophagy, it taps into stored energy reserves, including body fat, to produce energy. This can result in increased energy levels and improved overall vitality.
Improved Body Composition
Autophagy stimulates the breakdown of damaged proteins and organelles, contributing to a healthier body composition. It helps maintain muscle mass while reducing excess body fat, which is beneficial for overall physical fitness and well-being.
Calorie Restriction Mimetics
Certain dietary strategies, such as intermittent fasting and a high-fat ketogenic diet, have been shown to stimulate autophagy. These approaches, which restrict calorie intake or promote ketosis, can increase ketone levels in the body and enhance autophagic processes.
Autophagy can lead to changes in hormone levels, particularly insulin and glucagon. During autophagy, insulin levels decrease while glucagon levels tend to increase. These hormonal shifts contribute to a metabolic state that supports autophagy and its associated health benefits.
It's important to note that measuring autophagy accurately outside of a controlled laboratory environment is challenging. Currently, there is no definitive home-based method to quantify autophagy. However, monitoring these indicators can serve as supportive evidence that your body may be undergoing autophagy.
What Can Mess Up Autophagy?
While autophagy is a natural cellular process that occurs in our bodies, certain factors can hinder or disrupt its effectiveness. Understanding these potential hindrances can help us make informed choices to optimize autophagy and promote overall health:
- Caloric intake - Consuming excessive calories, especially from carbohydrates and protein, can suppress autophagy. High insulin levels, which are triggered by a high-carbohydrate diet, can inhibit the activation of autophagy. It is important to maintain a balanced and moderate calorie intake to support autophagy
- Regular snacking - Frequent snacking or grazing throughout the day keeps insulin levels elevated, which can interfere with autophagy. Giving your body regular periods of rest from food by practicing intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating can help promote autophagy
- Chronic stress - Prolonged stress can negatively impact autophagy. Stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt normal cellular processes, including autophagy. Finding effective stress management techniques, such as exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies, can help promote a healthier cellular environment
- A sediment lifestyle - Regular exercise has been shown to stimulate autophagy. Sedentary lifestyles can hinder the activation of autophagy. Incorporating both cardiovascular exercise and strength training into your routine can support autophagy and overall health
By being mindful of these potential hindrances and making conscious choices, we can create an environment that supports autophagy and promotes optimal cellular health. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance based on your specific needs and health goals.
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.
How to Make A Fast Easier
Fasting can be challenging, especially when you're just starting out. However, there are several strategies you can employ to make the fasting process easier and more manageable. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
- Start Slowly - If you're new to fasting, consider easing into it by starting with shorter fasting periods, such as intermittent fasting for 12-14 hours, before attempting longer fasts. This allows your body to adjust gradually
- Stay hydrated - Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated and stave off hunger. Herbal teas and infused water can also provide hydration while adding a touch of flavor
- Stay busy - Engage in activities that keep your mind occupied and distract you from thoughts of food. Pursue hobbies, exercise, or spend time with loved ones to help pass the time more easily
- Plan your meals - Prepare your meals in advance and have them readily available during your eating windows. This helps you stay on track and prevents impulsive, unhealthy food choices
- Focus on the benefits - Remind yourself of the reasons why you're fasting, whether it's for health, weight loss, or other personal goals. Keeping the benefits in mind can help you stay motivated and committed to your fasting regimen
Remember, it's essential to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed. If you experience prolonged discomfort or have underlying health conditions, consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on any fasting regimen.
What is the Best Way to Break a Fast?
After a period of fasting, it is important to reintroduce food in a manner that promotes digestive health and provides essential nutrients. Start by hydrating your body. Drinking water or herbal tea can help rehydrate your system and prepare it for food consumption. Opt for plain water or infused water with a slice of lemon or cucumber for a refreshing twist.
Next, introduce easily digestible foods that are gentle on the stomach. Start with light, nutrient-dense options like fresh fruits or vegetables, smoothies, or clear vegetable broth. These foods provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber while being gentle on the digestive system. Avoid heavy or processed foods during the initial stages of breaking a fast. Greasy or fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugary treats can overwhelm your digestive system and cause discomfort. Instead, focus on whole foods that are nutrient-rich and easy to digest.
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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