Understanding Autophagy & Disease
Autophagy means to self-eat. The concept was developed in the 1960’s when researchers noticed that a cell was capable of destroying its own contents by encasing it in membranes-autophagosomes-for degradation. It’s basically the way our body cleans out the damaged cells to make room for new healthier cells.
Autophagy is necessary to destroy foreign intruders such as viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms that are harmful to our bodies. As we age, this process slows down allowing diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Diabetes II, IBS, and even cancer.
In 2016, Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi received the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the mechanisms of autophagy which explains how cells recycle their contents. He was able to identify the genes and molecules behind autophagy. This aided researchers to understand how autophagy defects are associated with neurological diseases.
Now that we understand what autophagy is how can we keep it working longer and naturally? Believe it or not, the Bible already gives us the best way to do this. FASTING.
There are a set of metabolic processes that are necessary for maintaining a healthy brain and fasting will stimulate all of them. It increases circulating levels of peptides and proteins that support the growth, survival, and differentiation of neurons. This enhances network plasticity which is essential for learning. Increased stress resilience and mitochondria such as increased cognitive energy and reduces inflammation in the brain and reduced neuronal dysfunction that cause neurodegenerative diseases. Results are enhanced brain performance and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Lewy body disease just to name a few.
Several other benefits of fasting include the slowing of the aging process, improving body composition, increases insulin sensitivity, and adiponectin levels and improves digestion. Improves the cardiovascular system by reducing the heart rate and blood pressure while increasing the parasympathetic tone. It has also been shown to delay the growth of certain types of tumors.
Currently, there is not an exact time on how long to fast for autophagy. However, there are brain studies that show autophagy stimulation in the brain peaked between twenty-four and thirty-six hours. The study of liver cells found that it increased three hundred percent after twenty-four hours and another thirty percent after forty-eight hours.
There are several different ways to fast. During this fast, you can drink only water during a three to five-day period. You should be in optimal health and monitored by a health professional if you choose this option.
There is a five-day calorie restriction fast-mimicking diet. During these five days you select foods low in protein, low in carbs and high in healthy fats. The rest of the month you can eat whatever you want.
There is also the intermittent fast. One popular split is the 16:8. You eat during the eight hours and you fast for sixteen hours. This is done on-going as part of your lifestyle.
We can recognize that there must a balance. If you have too much or too little autophagy you will become ill. Constant dieting is not healthy. Feasting and fasting allows for cell growth during eating and cellular cleansing during fasting.
You can also provoke autophagy through high-intensity interval training or resistance training. You should do thirty minutes every other day. The acute stress of exercise triggers autophagy in the same way fasting does.
There are is a publication by the NCBI that explains autophagy in greater detail “Autophagy Modulation as a Potential Therapeutic Target for Diverse Diseases” you can read it here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22935804
While fasting is the most effective way to optimize autophagy, eating foods and exercising can be beneficial. Remember, when making major changes to your diet or exercise routine it is best to seek guidance from a professional.
Have you tried any type of fasting and how did it work for you?