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Autophagy & Intermittent Fasting

Allie Evangelopoulos

Allie Evangelopoulos

June 29, 2021

Autophagy & Intermittent Fasting

Activate your natural-healing mechanism

Ahh, autophagy! We can’t say enough about this benefit of fasting. Autophagy or autophagocytosis, in a nutshell, is the body’s self-healing mechanism. When we stop eating for a longer period of time, i.e. intermittent fast, autophagy begins. This process is exclusive to intermittent fasting, meaning that diets (yuck!) or calorie deficits alone won’t bring autophagy about! As if you needed another reason to start intermittent fasting with Fastic…

Did you know? Fasting gives your digestion the break it needs to activate your body’s cell-renewing mechanism

Autophagy: The Nobel Prize Method

In 2016, cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded a Nobel Prize for his discoveries on autophagy, though the term was originally coined by Christian de Duve, another Nobel Prize winning scientist. The word autophagy comes from the Greek αυτόφαγος, which means ‘to eat oneself.’

Essentially, this is what autophagy is!

No, your body isn’t actually becoming a cannibal on a cellular level, but it does begin to break down parts of the cell that are old, inefficient, or sick. Because of this, autophagy can help ward off disease. It stimulates the growth of shiny new cell parts, and keeps our bodies running in top shape.

Did you know? Cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded a Nobel Prize for his research on autophagy.

How does intermittent fasting kickstart autophagy?

As we fast, our insulin levels decrease. Insulin is the hormone responsible for the absorption of glucose (energy from the food we eat) from the bloodstream and into our liver, muscles and fat. Think of insulin as a traffic guard, overseeing the transport of glucose to its destination.

When we fast for 12 hours or more, our insulin levels are very low and glucose is nowhere in sight, as we’ve not eaten. Our body sees this, and summons glucagon! Glucagon (no, it’s not a Transformer) starts rounding up stored glucose in the body and releasing it into the bloodstream, keeping our blood sugar levels, and in turn, insulin levels, stable.

So what does this have to do with autophagy?

So what does this have to do with autophagy?

Although insulin and glucagon have their own little cycle to keep our blood sugar levels stabilized, some things are triggered in the process, one being autophagy.

Insulin goes down, glucagon goes up, and vice versa. It’s this increase in glucagon that stimulates autophagy.

Did you know? Fasting decreases our insulin and increases our glucagon levels, thereby stimulating autophagy.

Autophagy aka natural self-care

Seen as one of the major benefits of intermittent fasting, autophagy is the body’s OG way to practice self-care. Old, inefficient or sick cell parts are consumed by the body, meaning that we stay healthy. Nothing better than a little Marie Kondo on a cellular scope!

It’s out with the old and in with the new. Intermittent fasting also stimulates a little hormone called HGH (Human Growth Hormone). As more space is made inside the cells, HGH begins to produce brand new parts that work at top speed. Upgraded cells equal a healthy, happy you and can also lead to safe weight loss. Isn’t it amazing what our bodies can do?

Did you know? Autophagy promotes health and weight loss by encouraging the body to dispose of sick cells.

How can autophagy prevent disease?

Perhaps the most interesting and promising benefit of intermittent fasting: scientists are testing if autophagy could have an impact on the treatment and prevention of some of the most devastating diseases we know today.

In the most basic sense, all cancers come about via abnormal cell changes. This can be due to old cell parts that have stopped working and accumulate over time. It could also be due to cell parts that begin to mutate and multiply. Alzheimer’s is caused by a bunch of junky old proteins piling up in brain cells, leading to cognitive decline.

If only there were a way to prompt the body to discard these sick parts before they lead to disease… see where we’re going with this? Leading medical studies are looking into the idea of using intermittent fasting for the curing and prevention of these diseases.

Did you know? Since most diseases are caused by faulty cells, autophagy could help prevent or even cure them.

Food for thought

As with anything, it’s all about the balance. Intermittent fasting does bring about the wonderful health benefits of autophagy, however, fasting for too long can become draining or even dangerous.  

Because autophagy peaks after 16 hours of fasting, it’s important to realize that you may not reach the autophagic state every day. It’s all about finding what works for you. Balance is key, and so is enjoying a flexible schedule.

Reminder: Check with your doctor before undertaking a fast of more than 23 hours.

Did you know? Balance is key, so attempt to alternate between more gentle fasting and autophagy-driven fasting.

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