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How and Why Periodic Fasting Triggers Autophagy

by | Jun 16, 2020 | +SCIENCE

The word autophagy comes from Greek, where ‘auto’ means “self” and ‘phagein’ means “to eat.” Therefore, the word quite literally means to eat oneself. Primarily, this is the body’s mechanism of eliminating all the old, broken-down cell machinery (cell membranes, proteins, and damaged organelles) when there is no longer sufficient energy to retain them.

Furthermore, it protects against genome instability and prevents, liver disease, necrosis, diabetes, infections, and autoimmune diseases. [1]. It is a controlled, orderly procedure to recycle and degrade cellular components. During cellular stress, caused by a lack of nutrients and growth factors, autophagy intensifies.

Autophagy and Cell Death

In certain conditions, autophagy kills biological cells. These are a type of programmed cell death (PCDs), and you can refer to it as autophagic cell death. The term used for programmed cell death is ‘apoptosis.’ Autophagy retains a balance between the production of new cellular components and breaks down unnecessary or damaged organelles and other cellular elements. [2]

What Triggers Autophagy

Nutrient starvation is the primary activator of autophagy. In this sense, lack of any essential nutrients can induce autophagy. When we eat, our insulin level goes up, and glucagon comes down. However, when we fast (don’t eat or drink anything for 6 to 7 hours) our insulin level goes down, and glucagon shoots up. This increase in glucagon triggers the process of autophagy. In fact, fasting offers the greatest known boost to autophagy.

In short, autophagy is a cellular maintenance process and an effective way to cleanse the body, which you can stimulate by fasting. The body identifies damaged or old cellular equipment and marks it for removal. It is the collection of all this “junk” that may be responsible for premature aging and even diseases. So, autophagy helps remove unnecessary cells. New healthier cells take their place, helping to rejuvenate the body.

A Japanese researcher, Yoshinori Oshumi, discovered autophagy and its connection to fasting. Oshumi is a winner of the Nobel Prize for his discovery. [3] He believes that autophagy is essential for disease resistance, longevity, and overall body and brain vitality.

What Turns Off Autophagy

Eating switches off the autophagy process. Insulin, glucose, and proteins are a deterrent to this bio-mechanism. Even a small quantity of amino acids could stop autophagy cold.

Keep in mind that too much autophagy is bad and can make you sick. There should be a right balance between feast and fast to enable proper cell growth and cellular cleansing.

Fasting Diet, Types, and Profound Benefits

Typically, fasting is abstaining from food for a period of time. Besides stimulating autophagy, fasting is beneficial for your overall health. When it boosts autophagy, fasting allows our bodies to get rid of old, damaged cellular parts and proteins. It also stimulates the growth of new cells.

Intermittent or Periodic Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a blanket term for different diets that phase between a period of fasting and non-fasting. There are three categories of intermittent fasting: whole-day fasting, alternate-day fasting, and time-restricted feed (TRF).

  • Whole Day Fasting – This class specifies different ratios of fasting to non-fasting days, like 4:3, in which individuals consumed 500 to 600 calories (males) or 400 to 500 calories (females) during fasting days. During eating days, the diet is regular.
  • Alternate-Day Fasting – This involves a 24-hour fast, followed by a 24-hour eating period.
  • Time-Restricted Feeding – TRF features an established fasting period and a reduced eating span of 3 to 12 hours. For instance, one type of TRF involves fasting for 16 hours every day and consuming daily calories during the remaining 8 hours, generally on the same schedule every day.
  • The 16/8 Method – This is where you skip breakfast every day and eat during an 8-hour feeding time span, such as noon to 8 pm.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat – this method involves doing one or two whole-day fasts every week, for instance by not consuming from dinner time one day until dinner time the next day.[4]
  • Periodic Fasting – This tends to include fasts of three, 4, or even five days to cause autophagy to occur. Additionally, days 4 and 5 are when the body then starts to replace the removed cells with new healthier cells helping to rejuvenate the body.

Benefits of a Fasting Diet

  • Improved Cognition/Brain Health: Fasting increases the level of biomolecules that support the development, survival, and differentiation of neurons, thus maintaining a high-performing and healthy mind. [5]
  • Reversed/Slowed Marks Of Aging: Old and dysfunctional cells present in our body can result in aging and other diseases, and fasting helps reverse that by stimulating autophagy, which is a process of cellular maintenance. [6]
  • Better Digestion: Fasting helps reset the digestive system by allowing the gastrointestinal tract to relax. In practice, this encourages reduced intestinal inflammation and enhanced motility (the contraction of gastrointestinal muscles in digestion). Both factors result in better absorption of nutrients and better quality of movement.
  • Another interesting thing about fasting is that it might encourage the growth of certain bacterial species in the gut that stimulates lipolysis (burning of fat).
  • Weight Loss: It appears to be a no-brainer that depriving your body of food would help you lose weight. Naturally, fasting dramatically reduces your caloric intake.

If you are planning to fast, a good tip is to stay hydrated. Work with a physician to monitor your health and help you select the type of fasting that would be best for you. For quick and best results, don’t forget to combine easy movement and sufficient rest with your autophagic journey.