Now we’ve known about autophagy since the 1960s. But it’s been a particularly hot topic over the last few years. Since Japanese cell biologist Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, won the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology for his work on autophagy back in 2016.

So What is autophagy?

The word autophagy itself means self-eating when translated from the Greek. It is the process that cells use to get rid of damaged structures within themselves, to turn them into newer or healthier versions of themselves.

Think of it like decluttering, But for the inside of yourselves, and a lot is going on inside a cell. Take your wardrobe, for example, it’s normal that over time, you’re going to need to get rid of some of your older, worn-out clothes and buy some new ones.

There’s got to be some out with the old, and in with the new to keep some sort of order. Without wardrobe autophagy, your clothes just become more and more ragged and damaged, and you never make room for a new one.

And when you think about it, ageing is just more and more damage occurring at the cellular level over a prolonged period, Or worse still, the failure to repair the damage that can lead to things like cancer.

Alternatively, you don’t clear out your old clothes properly, and you buy new clothes anyway, and your wardrobe starts to spill over.

You start bagging those extra clothes up and leave them lying around, And over time, they build up, and you can’t even open the doors anymore.

Well, some of the common neurodegenerative conditions, are caused by abnormal clumping of proteins within the brain, which can cause damage to nerve cells.

Amyloid plaques are a feature of Alzheimer’s disease, and we see something called Lewy body formation in Parkinson’s disease. But with the wardrobe, autophagy this works perfectly. You’re not only getting rid of those old clothes, but you’re also selling them on eBay and using that money to buy new clothes, and that’s just like with actual autophagy.

When you’re breaking down those old damaged bits of the cells and building them into new ones. Now this is the time when I think that’s about as far as I can push the wardrobe autophagy analogy. So I think it’s time to move on from that.

This new understanding of autophagy is helping us look at certain diseases in a completely different way.

We think that a lack of autophagy plays a role in neurodegenerative diseases, in cancer, in autoimmune diseases, in infectious diseases and ageing. Talking about ageing, the bad news for all of us is that, the rate of autophagy does decrease as we get older.

So the benefits of potentially increasing the rate of autophagy are pretty obvious. There is a huge amount of money being spent by pharmaceutical companies trying to provide drugs that will increase autophagy.

I’m sure we’ll see the results of those trials within the next 50 years or so.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to wait for that research to become available before I start to do something with this.

I’m also not going to take a drug if there’s a way to do it entirely natural, and if you’re interested in this too, then you’re definitely interested.

What increases autophagy?

How do we up-regulate this process?

Now both ketogenic diets and exercise up-regulate this to a certain extent. But by far the most potent way to increase autophagy is nutrient deprivation, and by nutrient deprivation, I mean, fasting.

And so the next question is logical.

How long do you need to fast to activate autophagy?

Okay, so here is the slight problem. 

How do you measure autophagy? & How do you know it’s happening?

Well, the best way is to look for something called autophagosomes, and these are what actually doing the autophagy.

In one study mice that fasted for 24 hours, produced significant numbers of autophagosomes. We’re not mice, so we can’t say that this translate over to humans.

So we’re pretty limited in what we know. There is a general expert consensus around this, and i.e.- you need to fast about 18 hours to get this process of autophagy properly started.

You need to stay in that fasted state for about two to three days to get the maximum benefits.

So Quick Disclaimer – This is not my medical advice. I’m not telling you to go and fast for 72 hours.

One most important thing, if you’ve got ongoing health conditions, then you have to discuss with your doctor before attempting a longer-term fast like this.

Can you have too much autophagy?

Some are good, so more equals better, right?

Let’s go back to that wardrobe analogy. If you’re selling your clothes on eBay, faster than you’re replacing them, you’re gonna run out of clothes.

Similarly, too much autophagy, such as fasting for too long or fasting too frequently, may cause harm rather than doing good.

Again, there is a general consensus about this, and they say that two or three longer fasts, within 12 months should be sufficient, but again, who knows for sure.

Ultimately, we don’t want to be overdoing these things. Life is about balance, and With fasting comes feasting.

For me, this new information we have about autophagy just serves to reinforce that we are hard-wired. A genetic level for the feast and fast, not for this ongoing carbohydrate-based, three to five meals a day sometimes.

Our ancestors would have to survive for long periods, without food. It makes sense that evolution has given us a process like autophagy to use up our intracellular waste for energy, during those times of starvation.

So, guys, that was a high-level overview of intermittent fasting and autophagy. I found it really interesting. I hope you did too.

Let me know if you’ve tried a longer fast, you know, up to 72 hours in the past.

How did you find it?

I think this is an important topic that more people need to know about it.

So, I’d really appreciate it if you think this article is full of knowledge, then please share it on your social media channels.