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What Is Autophagy? 8 Amazing Benefits of Fasting That Will Save Your Life Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background image: Shutterstock #1798341247 (under license)
Our bodies are self-maintaining. Biological systems are designed to make sure everything is functioning optimally. For this reason, there must be some kind of automatic biological maintenance going on in our organs, tissues, and cells for life to sustain itself. One such self-maintenance process is autophagy.
Autophagy is an important process that offers a ton of health benefits. However, some conditions have to be met before autophagy is triggered—and modern living could be standing in the way. But as Dr. Sten Ekberg elaborates, there are lifestyle choices you can make to induce autophagy, including fasting.
What is Autophagy—and What is the Role of Fasting?
A 2015 article published in Nature defines autophagy as the process by which “cells maintain themselves by degrading faulty organelles or accumulated proteins and recycling metabolites.” 
Autophagy is based on the idea that the body will ‘eat’ itself (auto: self, phage: eat) in the absence of food from external sources. Sounds alarming but it isn’t; it breaks down and recycles damaged proteins and cells—allowing for healthier new versions to be built. In other words, “eat thyself, sustain thyself.”
Historical records suggest the term “autophagy” was coined in the 1960s by Christian de Duve, a Belgian biochemist. Since then, our understanding of the “self-eating” process has progressed—with Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi winning the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his “discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.” 
Fasting To Induce Autophagy
Humans were historically feasters and fasters. Our ancestors had to go without food from time to time between their hunting and gathering expeditions. This meant that they had to experience energy deficits—which research suggests is the primary driver of autophagy.
According to a study published in autophagy, fasting is one of the most effective ways to induce autophagy. The researchers conclude: “Our data lead us to speculate that sporadic fasting might represent a simple, safe, and inexpensive means to promote this potentially therapeutic neuronal response.”  Another 2018 study in the Ageing Research Reviews further suggests that both calorie restriction and fasting can trigger autophagy. 
Calorie restriction and fasting put your cells under pressure to work more efficiently. They trigger autophagy since your cells have to make the most of the few calories available—which means any damaged or dysfunctional organelles are disassembled, cleaned out, and recycled to be used as an energy source.
The issue is many people today rarely experience energy deficits. Food is plentiful, cheap, and readily available with a few taps on your phone. For this reason, Dr. Ekberg encourages people to incorporate fasting into diet plans to help induce autophagy and to experience its amazing health benefits.
What are the Health Benefits of Autophagy?
Autophagy is a fundamental part of healthy cell function. Here are some of the health benefits you may experience from triggering the process through fasting:
• Anti-aging: The accumulation of damaged organelles and proteins is one of the hallmarks of cellular aging. But according to a study appearing Journal of clinical & experimental pathology, autophagy may help repair impaired pathways involved in cellular aging—hence keeping your cells healthy and ensuring the body ages slowly. 
• Improving your Immune Reponse: Research suggests that autophagy may help support the immune system. The “self-eating” process may protect you against autoimmune disorders, inflammatory conditions, and infectious diseases.  It impacts the actions of immune cells such as cytokines, lymphocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages. 
• Reversing early stages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease: The risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is linked to the accumulation of pathological proteins and misfolded proteins. Inducing autophagy may help protect you from these brain-related diseases by disassembling and clearing out these damaged proteins. 
• Improving the overall hormone balance: According to a study in the Journal of Molecular Endocrinology, autophagy plays a crucial role in regulating intracellular hormone levels and preventing endocrine diseases like diabetes.  It helps reduce insulin resistance and increase growth hormone levels. 
• Reducing skin sag: Research suggests that impairing the autophagy pathways may lead to skin fragility and deterioration of dermal integrity.  Collagen breaks down, and elastin production is altered. The outcome? Saggy, aged skin.
• Improving detoxification: By definition, autophagy is your body’s natural detoxification process. It’s how your body disassembles and clears out cellular junk, keeping your systems functioning optimally. 
• Improving tissue quality: An article appearing in Cells notes that autophagy may play an important role in maintaining tissue homeostasis, which includes controlling metabolic function, cell proliferation, and death.  It may also play a role in tissue regeneration and injury.
• Helps in traumatic brain injury recovery: According to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, autophagy is a promising therapeutic target for traumatic brain injury (TBI).  “Regulation of autophagy by different molecules and pathways could exhibit anti-oxidative stress, anti-apoptosis and anti-inflammation effects in TBI.”
Autophagy appears to offer some amazing health benefits—from anti-aging to protection from neurodegenerative diseases. But to fully reap the health-promoting and life-extending benefits of the “self-eating” process, you may need to make intentional lifestyle adjustments such as fasting.
 Marx, V. (2015). Autophagy: eat thyself, sustain thyself. Nature methods, 12(12), 1121-1125: https://www.nature.com/articles/nmeth.3661.pdf
 The Nobel Prize, Medicine, 2016: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2016/press-release/
 Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy, 6(6), 702-710: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
 Bagherniya, M., Butler, A. E., Barreto, G. E., & Sahebkar, A. (2018). The effect of fasting or calorie restriction on autophagy induction: A review of the literature. Ageing research reviews, 47, 183-197: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30172870/
 Gelino, S., & Hansen, M. (2012). Autophagy-an emerging anti-aging mechanism. Journal of clinical & experimental pathology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3674854/
 Levine, B., Mizushima, N., & Virgin, H. W. (2011). Autophagy in immunity and inflammation. Nature, 469(7330), 323-335: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3131688/
 Qian, M., Fang, X., & Wang, X. (2017). Autophagy and inflammation. Clinical and translational medicine, 6(1), 1-11: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5529308/
 Tan, C. C., Yu, J. T., Tan, M. S., Jiang, T., Zhu, X. C., & Tan, L. (2014). Autophagy in aging and neurodegenerative diseases: implications for pathogenesis and therapy. Neurobiology of aging, 35(5), 941-957: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197458013005873
 Weckman, A., Di Ieva, A., Rotondo, F., Syro, L. V., Ortiz, L. D., Kovacs, K., & Cusimano, M. D. (2014). Autophagy in the endocrine glands. J Mol Endocrinol, 52(2), R151-R163: https://jme.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/jme/52/2/R151.xml
 Frendo-Cumbo, S., Tokarz, V. L., Bilan, P. J., Brumell, J. H., & Klip, A. (2021). Communication between autophagy and insulin action: at the crux of insulin action-insulin resistance? Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, 1918: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8319997/
 Tashiro, K., Shishido, M., Fujimoto, K., Hirota, Y., Yo, K., Gomi, T., & Tanaka, Y. (2014). Age-related disruption of autophagy in dermal fibroblasts modulates extracellular matrix components. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 443(1), 167-172: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24287182/
 Parzych, K. R., & Klionsky, D. J. (2014). An overview of autophagy: morphology, mechanism, and regulation. Antioxidants & redox signaling, 20(3), 460-473: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3894687/
 Lin, P. H. (2019). Advances in Autophagy, Tissue Injury, and Homeostasis: Cells Special Issue. Cells, 8(7), 743: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6679422/
 Zhang, L., & Wang, H. (2018). Autophagy in traumatic brain injury: a new target for therapeutic intervention. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience, 11, 190: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5996030/
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