Autophagy Fasting: Everything You Need to Know

October 1, 2021

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Autophagy is the process by which the body clears away damaged cells and regenerates new ones. With auto - meaning ‘self,’ and - phagy meaning ‘eat,’ the name of the process aptly describes the mechanism.

Autophagy induces both cell death and cellular repair and is an evolutionary method of self-preservation within the body.

Inducing autophagy will remove any dysfunctional cells from the body and recycle any damaged cell components that can be spared to regenerate newer, healthier cells.

Autophagy plays a role in a number of different immune responses and may help to prevent many non-communicable and infectious diseases.

The autophagy process promotes survival and adaptation in the human body and comes with many health benefits, including its impact on cancer cells, tumor cells, and brain cells.

There are methods of eating, exercising, and fasting that stimulate autophagy, and human studies, while limited, show many beneficial effects of how autophagy can increase health.

  • What is autophagy fasting?
  • What are the main health benefits of autophagy?
  • 3 ways to induce autophagy
  • Does autophagy have an effect on weight loss?
  • Does autophagy cause side effects?
  • Who should not consider doing intermittent fasting at all?

What Is Autophagy Fasting?

Autophagy fasting is a method used to promote autophagy, or self-eating, in the body. Both fasting, including intermittent fasting, and caloric restriction induces autophagy.

A restriction in caloric intake is thought to cause stressful conditions for cells, making them work harder. This is because cells cannot function properly when they get fewer than necessary calories.

Studies have shown that short-term fasting stimulates the autophagy pathway in brain cells and other research suggests it takes at least 24 hours of fasting before autophagy is induced.

Though we know that autophagy can be very good for the body, it remains unclear which cells autophagy is stimulated in during fasting.

What Are the Main Health Benefits of Autophagy?

Autophagy has lots of positive health effects and can boost overall health when working efficiently in the body.

Below, we have summarised a number of the health benefits of autophagy.

Cell regeneration and extended lifespan

One of the most well-known benefits of autophagy in the body is increased lifespan.

Elevated levels of the autophagy process are thought to play an important role in the lifespan regulation of all animals due to the cell renewal process.

Autophagy may boost the immune system

Autophagy is thought to boost immune response in humans.

Studies have shown that autophagy can control immune responses with the modulation of the functions of immune cells as well as the production of cytokines.

Cytokines play an important role in the body’s immune response by signaling to the immune cells that it is time to work.

Conversely, it is also thought that autophagy can be induced by the immune systems’ response too.

An immune system that is working at elevated levels is more easily able to fight disease when it enters the body helping to boost overall health.

May help prevent the progression of various liver conditions

Autophagy is considered crucial to liver health as it may help to prevent the development of many liver conditions, including Wilson’s disease, acute liver injury, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and chronic alcohol-related liver disease.

Autophagy protects liver cells against injury and cell death through a process of eliminating and removing damaged organelles and proteins that are present in those with liver conditions.

May lower the risk of cancer

There is evidence to suggest that increased autophagy may be able to inhibit cancer cell survival as well as induce the death of tumor cells.

Though some autophagy may be good for cancer cells, there is also reason to believe that autophagy may progress the growth of cancerous cells, leading some to believe that inhibiting autophagy is best for those with cancer.

May help prevent neurodegenerative diseases

Neuronal autophagy is said to have a positive effect on neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's disease.

At a cellular level, autophagy removes toxic proteins from cells that have been linked with these neurodegenerative disorders.

3 Ways to Induce Autophagy

Because of the extensive benefits of autophagy, many people look for a way to induce this natural process. Below we have summarized a few different ways you can activate autophagy.

  1. Start intermittent fasting

When you start fasting, you go through the five stages of fasting, autophagy being one of them. Combine intermittent fasting with the keto diet and you’ll reach ketosis followed by autophagy much faster.

  1. The Keto diet

The ketogenic diet involves eating a high-fat low-carb diet to induce a state of ketosis in the body. This metabolic state pushes the body to burn fat rather than blood sugar for fuel.

Ketosis is thought to induce autophagy in the body as well as trigger the AMPK pathway, further inducing autophagy.

The keto diet may be a successful method of inducing autophagy in the body.

  1. Autophagy can be promoted by consuming certain foods

Many foods can promote autophagy, including turmeric, green tea, grape skin (found in red wine!!), nuts, onions, apples, berries, soybeans, and milk thistle.

Most of these foods contain what are known as polyphenols and phytonutrients, which are plant-based compounds. Some forms of both compounds are known to induce autophagy in humans.

Does Autophagy Have an Effect on Weight Loss?

Weight loss is considered one of the autophagy markers as it frequently occurs alongside this process.

Autophagy is induced easily with a calorie restriction through a period of extended fasting, or other dietary restriction options like time-restricted intermittent fasting, stimulating starvation-induced autophagy. 

Due to the reduction in calorie intake for the stimulation of autophagy, weight loss is common alongside this process.

Additionally, autophagy is thought to affect certain hormones, namely glucagon, insulin, and ghrelin, which can decrease hunger and appetite, creating a calorie restriction.

Autophagy also takes a central role in the process of cellular repair which can help to boost metabolism.

Does Autophagy Cause Side Effects?

Like many processes, too much of a good thing can indeed have negative effects too, and though autophagy is adept at protecting against neurodegenerative disease and cancer as well as promoting a longer lifespan, there are some side effects.

Autophagy is thought to kill cells in the heart when purging damaged components of cells. This heart cell elimination can be linked to heart problems.

Autophagy for an extended period may also be detrimental to the treatment of cancer.

Though the autophagy process may play a role in the elimination of cancerous cells, it can also decrease response to cancer treatment.

Indeed, some studies show that when autophagy declines, tumor growth is limited and there is a marked increase in the efficacy of cancer treatment.

The link between autophagy and cancer is complex and more research may be needed to truly determine the link between the two.

Who Should Not Consider Doing Intermittent Fasting At All?

When it comes to intermittent fasting, there are plenty of health benefits, which include autophagy and its ability to increase longevity, but some people should not try it.

Those who should not try intermittent fasting include pregnant people and those who are breastfeeding. This is because intermittent fasting makes it harder to get certain nutrients, and with a child also drawing from your resources, you may become deficient in vital nutrients.

Those who have suffered from an eating disorder or are currently suffering from one should not try intermittent fasting either. Fasting promotes disordered patterns of eating which can cause relapses, as well as in some cases activate an eating disorder. 

Anyone who has a condition that would be exacerbated by periods of fasting or calorie restriction should avoid trying out intermittent fasting so as not to worsen their condition.

And lastly, children and teenagers should not try intermittent fasting.

Conclusion

Fasting to induce autophagy is a good way to boost your health.

Autophagy has health benefits that affect the brain, immune response, liver health, and the body’s response to cancerous growths. Each benefit has been researched through rodent studies and some human studies.

More research may be needed to determine the efficacy of inducing autophagy but current peer-reviewed studies appear positive about the benefits of induced autophagy.

There are many ways to induce autophagy, including following a ketogenic way of eating, incorporating intense activity into your routine, and eating certain foods.

Autophagy may come with some side effects but it is safe to induce for most people.

Intermittent fasting is a fantastic way of elevating the autophagy process in your body.

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