Autophagy:  Activate Your Anti-Ageing Pathway 

It seems every day you hear of a new dietary recommendation to adopt with its many health promises – so you are forgiven if you find yourself jaded, completely confused, and unsure about which to choose.

In many cases, though, the recommendations for dietary selection are associated with weight loss – go on a certain diet and lose a certain amount of weight. But what if we could eat in a certain way to activate our most anti-aging pathway? What if we could find a way of playing with our macronutrients by eating certain foods that truly optimize our health and longevity? 

Autophagy is our most anti-aging pathway

Enter ‘autophagy’. Even if you’re an avid follower of the health and wellness scene, there is a good chance you might not have heard of autophagy. It wasn’t until 2016 when a Nobel Prize in Physiology + Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of the mechanisms of this biological removal and recycling pathway.

Breaking it down into “auto,” meaning self, and “phagy,” denoting cell eating, autophagy is essentially self-eating where the body recycles its own cells. It’s a natural method of cleaning the house and is a critical component in maintaining our health at the cellular level – helping to dampen inflammation, slow down the aging process, and optimize biological function.

Why is autophagy Important?

Our cells are constantly being damaged through natural bodily processes: such as energy conversion, digestion, and immunity. This happens even in healthy humans and is an important part of the cellular life cycle, which allows the regular generation of new, young cells that can perform optimally in our body.

However, with age, stress, increased exposure to food and chemicals, our cells can experience free radical damage, which in turn causes them to be compromised at a faster-than-normal-rate. As a result, the body needs some way of getting rid of these damaged cells. Enter autophagy. The body employs natural mechanisms to clear out damaged and under-performing cells that are lingering in the tissues and organs. If these are not removed, they can trigger inflammation in the body and prevent the body from being able to efficiently carry out normal tasks, and lead to the development of diseases.

The Benefits of Autophagy 

While the body can do this clean up alone, and indeed autophagy is active in all cells, there are many benefits to encouraging regular autophagy:

    • Regulates cellular mitochondria, which improves energy production in the body.
    • Protects the nervous system and the immune system.
    • Protects against metabolic stress.
    • Encourages the growth of new cells, especially those in the brain and heart tissue, enhancing cognitive function and protecting against heart disease.
    • Helps improve digestive function by repairing and restoring the gut lining. 
    • Helps to protect our genes by maintaining the integrity and stability of our DNA.

Genetic links have emerged between autophagy defects and cancer, providing increasing support for the concept of autophagy as a bona fide tumor suppressor pathway. 

How fasting + low protein cycling can stimulate autophagy 

One great way to encourage this advanced level of autophagy is through the practice of time-restricted eating.  This self-digestion not only provides nutrients to maintain vital cellular functions during fasting, but also can rid the cell of superfluous or damaged organelles, misfolded proteins, and invading microorganisms. Interestingly, self-digestion by autophagy—a process that is potently triggered by fasting—is now emerging as a central biological pathway that functions to promote health and longevity.

Research shows that 12+ hours of fasting is a great autophagic trigger. When fasting, the levels of glucose in the body are low, and therefore, so is insulin. Lowered insulin triggers increased glucagon, the body’s naturally produced hormone which can help stabilize blood sugar levels. The presence of this hormone signals the need for autophagy.