The word autophagy comes from the Greek words “auto-” for self and “phagy” for eating, or “self-eating.” Autophagy is a normal process that occurs to break down and recycles old or damaged cells and cellular components. There are numerous health benefits of autophagy that include improved cellular function and improved immune system function.
Your body’s ability to consistently use autophagy to clean up old cellular debris does slow as you age and chronic medical conditions like diabetes may also negatively impact your body’s ability for efficient autophagy.
Intermittent and short-term fasting and prolonged fasting, as well as exercise, can boost your body’s ability to perform autophagy and gain the health benefits of autophagy. While fasting has been practiced in some religions and cultures for thousands of years, the science and research of autophagy are much more recent. In fact, the Japanese researcher, Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi , received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2016 for his ground-breaking research into the role of autophagy for cellular repair thru recycling cellular components.
Autophagy Improves Regeneration Capabilities While Reducing Damage to Cells
Regeneration can only take place if damage to the cells has been minimized. Autophagy is a process that gradually reduces damage and provides the tissues with what they need to stimulate the growth of new, healthier cells. The more autophagy occurs, the more the body’s healing mechanisms are put into motion. As older, damaged cells are stripped away, healthier cells can provide the support the body needs to heal itself on a cellular level. mTor is known for regulating various cellular processes. Autophagy supports these processes by encouraging the breakdown and elimination of cells that are damaged or starting to gradually die off.
Intermittent fasting not only removes, these cells but also allows healthy cells nearby to get the nutrients and oxygen they need to start the healing and recovery process. Regeneration of cellular components is also possible, especially when it comes to mitochondria and other vital elements.
Autophagy Eliminates Leftover Proteins That May Become Toxic
One of the key benefits of autophagy is its ability to eliminate proteins that no longer function properly. By removing them from the body, they can’t build up and cause damage to other cells. When damaged protein cells become toxic, it can actually lead to the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. The damaged proteins within each cell are eliminated and replaced with new protiens as needed to ensure the cells can function properly. Whether in the brain or in the body itself, unused or compromised proteins can degrade and negatively impact cellular function or in layman’s terms, make the cell “toxic.” This toxicity can lead to inflammation, infection, and the deterioration of tissues throughout the body. When autophagy is kickstarted through the process of intermittent fasting, these toxic proteins are systematically eliminated from the body. Once they have been dealt with, the immune system can return to its regular job of attacking other microbes that are attacking the body. When it comes to slowing down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, autophagy eliminates those toxins that have an adverse effect on tissues and organs that are already compromised. While it won’t reverse the process, it can slow it down and offer the person a higher quality of life.
Autophagy Increases Energy
When it comes to your metabolism, autophagy fine-tunes the process. By eliminating defective mitochondria in the cells and replacing them with ones that work more efficiently, With healthy mitochondria, the body is able to burn fuel much more effectively boosting energy levels and giving your body the energy it needs without damaging cells. Reducing the number of by-products produced by the mitochondria also reduces wear and tear on the cells allowing them to function for longer periods of time.
Autophagy Boosts the Body’s Ability to Use Proteins as Building Blocks for Stronger Tissues
Autophagy not only eliminates cells that are dead or dying, but autophagy also works to eliminate specific components within the cells that may become damaged over time. This allows healthy cells to be repaired so they can become stronger and more efficient. Stronger tissues are better able to withstand injuries and can actually utilize fuel more efficiently, reducing the number of toxins produced, and making sure that nutrients are not wasted. When intermittent fasting and autophagy are used correctly, several actions begin to take place within the body. As the body begins to function more efficiently, the brain also begins to fine-tune its processes as well. Growth hormone is released and stimulates the creation of new cells that are stronger and more resilient. Autophagy also has a direct impact on mTor and its ability to regulate many processes that occur on a cellular level, in terms of both recovery/repair and the creation of new cells.
Autophagy Keeps Inflammation Under Control
When an injury occurs, it stimulates an immune response from the body in the form of inflammation. Inflammation cushions the injured area to protect it from further injury. Autophagy can help to increase the amount of inflammation near an injury or it can minimize. Once the threat of re-injury has passed, autophagy reduces the amount of inflammation by eliminating the proteins or antigens that are stimulating the body’s immune response.
Intermittent fasting forces the body to look for a fuel source from within. In addition to going after dead or damaged cells, autophagy targets inflammation and helps to minimize its damaging effects on the joints.
Autophagy Boosts the Immune System and Fights Infectious Disease
Autophagy’s ability to stimulate the body’s immune response when prompting inflammation can also be used to attack infectious diseases. The “self-eating” aspect of autophagy can eliminate microbes and germs that find their way inside cells.
Infections also have the capability to produce dangerous toxins that can lead to severe health problems. Autophagy removes those toxins and can help the immune system get the upper hand when fighting different types of infectious diseases. Autophagy literally cleans house by breaking down the damaged areas of cells that microbes feed on. Cleaning up any damaged or dying tissue minimizes the food supply and makes way for stronger, more efficient cells to take over.
Autophagy Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
Another benefit of autophagy is the ability of autophagy to trigger weight loss in some people. Short-term fasts that kick off the autophagic “self-eating” process will spare proteins that are normally used as fuel and instead burn fat stores instead. As the toxins and waste are removed from the cells and tissues, the process becomes more efficient. Leaner, stronger muscles will begin to repair and regenerate themselves requiring more fuel to maintain their new efficiency.
As new cells are created, more fuel will be drawn from fat deposits around the body, cutting your weight and improving your overall health. Something to remember about the average diet in America is that fast food is easy to find and convenient. It contains an excessive amount of fat and, in many cases, the wrong types of protein. Intermittent fasting helps to restore balance. If you take the time to prepare your own food and eat on your schedule, your body is more likely to shed those unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
Autophagy Improves Digestion
Another one of the many health benefits of autophagy is when it comes to the digestive system. Cells throughout the stomach and intestines are constantly working. As one breaks down or becomes damaged, it is consumed by the acids and other enzymes produced in the stomach. An overnight fast or regular intermittent fasting allows for the digestive tract to de-clutter itself and makes any necessary repairs on the cellular level. Making this a regular practice ensures that the entire system works as efficiently as possible. Although autophagy is constantly at work in the digestive tract, intermittent fasting fine-tunes the process of improving digestion and making sure the body is able to absorb the nutrients it needs.
Autophagy Enhances Muscle Performance
During exercise, damage occurs on a regular basis in the form of microtears and swelling. More energy is needed in order for the body to make the necessary repairs. Autophagy kicks in and helps to eliminate damaged areas that can’t be repaired, minimizing the amount of energy that is needed during the recovery process. In return, any energy that the body uses is to build stronger, healthier cells.
Autophagy may not only improve the efficiency of the muscles but may also keep the tissues pliant and flexible so they are less likely to be injured in the future.
These health benefits of autophagy at the cellular level deliver many whole body improvements. Autophagy appears to be an example of the body’s incredible ability to recycle and reuse cellular components. Some research shows that muscles that are deficient in a specific autophagy gene (Atg7) experience more muscle damage and degradation than muscle tissue that has a functioning Atg7 gene <fn>https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19945408/<fn>
Autophagy May Aid In Cancer Prevention
Autophagy has been studied in the prevention of cancer as well as the treatment of pre-malignant and malignant cancers. There is research that suggests that autophagy is used by the body to suppress early malignant cancer cells. <fn> https://www.embopress.org/doi/abs/10.15252/embj.201490784 </fn>
There are some possible benefits of autophagy on skin and skin elasticity. Fasting-induced autophagy may be an effective treatment for the loose skin on the arms and abdominal area that some people experience after significant weight loss. Autophagy can help improve fibroblast activity, which has a role in improved skin elasticity and collagen formation.