Autophagy – Meaning Of Autophagy And Its Health Benefits
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Autophagy is a crucial biological process that aids in waste removal and maintains gene stability while supporting the immune system’s proper functioning and ability to identify cancer and other harmful agents.
Additionally, it serves to eliminate pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses that could pose a threat to the body.
This article delves into the advantages of autophagy, dietary modifications that can enhance it, and factors that can activate it.
What Is Autophagy?
Autophagy is a significant process in which the cells in our body eliminate unnecessary or damaged components.
The term autophagy is derived from “auto”, meaning self, and “phagy”, meaning eat, which translates to “self-eating.” Even though the term may sound unpleasant, it benefits our overall health.
Autophagy is a natural mechanism that helps remove dysfunctional cells and recycle their parts for cellular repair and cleaning. According to Dr Luiza Petre, a board-certified cardiologist, autophagy is an evolutionary self-preservation mechanism that aims to restore the body to optimal smooth function.
Benefit Of Autophagy
Maintaining a hygienic body and ensuring the smooth functioning of cellular pathways are fundamental to good health. This is why autophagy is believed to have extensive advantages.
1. Healthy Ageing
We all get older, but have you noticed that some people age faster than others regarding appearance and overall health? That’s because cellular aging3 occurs due to the accumulation of damaged proteins and organelles that interfere with normal body function and repair—and some people have more of these damaged proteins (and do less to clear them out) than others.
2. Weight Management
According to Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., a certified internist, intermittent fasting is a highly effective strategy for weight loss, especially when other methods have failed. Conditions like obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes are often linked to insufficient autophagy. Conversely, research published in Nature indicates that promoting autophagy can help eliminate damaged proteins and reduce weight and related health issues.
3. Lowered Inflammation
The process of autophagy plays a crucial role in controlling inflammation by regulating the behaviour of different types of inflammatory cells, such as macrophages, neutrophils, lymphocytes, and cytokines.
This was highlighted in a research review published in Clinical and Translational Medicine. As autophagy is a potent anti-inflammatory mechanism, promoting it may aid in reducing the severity of various inflammation-related conditions, including Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and COPD.
Autophagy also helps regulate insulin levels, reducing inflammation and promoting gut health, which is a crucial yet often neglected aspect of weight loss and overall well-being, as stated by Dr Pedre.
4. Better Brain Health
Ruhoy points out that a significant characteristic of many neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, is the accumulation of pathologic or misfolded proteins. As such, impaired autophagy may play a role in developing these diseases. However, the exact way this happens is not yet fully understood.
5. Lowered risk of cancer
Autophagy’s involvement in cancer is somewhat debated. According to a recent report in Molecular Cancer, autophagy can inhibit tumour growth and the spread of cancer in the initial stages. However, autophagy may promote their growth if tumours are already advanced.
This implies that autophagy may be beneficial in preventing cancer development, but if cancer is already present, it is crucial to follow medical recommendations for treatment.
Diet Changes That Can Boost Autophagy
Autophagy is a process of “self-eating” and can be triggered by intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets. Intermittent fasting is the most effective way to activate autophagy, while a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet can also bring the same benefits without fasting.
The keto diet shifts the body’s metabolic pathways to use fat for fuel instead of glucose derived from carbs, producing ketone bodies that have protective effects. Both fasting and the keto diet cause low glucose levels linked to low insulin and high glucagon levels.
Glucagon initiates autophagy, the positive stress that wakes up the body’s survival and repair mode. Exercise may also induce autophagy in organs part of metabolic regulation processes, such as muscles, liver, pancreas, and adipose tissue.
What Can Trigger Autophagy?
Autophagy can be induced when the body is deprived of nutrients and enters a survival mode. Certain factors can activate autophagy.
- Fasting: Starving the body of possible nutrients forces cells to change cell components into ATP for fuel
- Exercise: Exercise makes autophagy to keep the cells functioning. it burns the main body’s source of energy called glucose.
- Restricting calories: Consuming too many calories can also cause you to go into autophagy.
As researchers continue to investigate the effects of autophagy on our health, it is likely to attract more attention. However, nutritional and health experts like Khorana suggest that there is still much to learn about autophagy and how to promote it effectively.
If you want to stimulate autophagy, Khorana recommends incorporating fasting and regular exercise into your routine. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re taking medications, pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a chronic condition like heart disease or diabetes. Khorana advises against fasting if you fall into any of these categories.