How Do You Trigger Autophagy?

Triggering autophagy

The term “autophagy” is derived from a Greek word that means “self-eating.”
The term “autophagy” is derived from a Greek word that means “self-eating.”

The term “autophagy” is derived from a Greek word that means “self-eating.”

Autophagy is a vital process that helps eliminate unwanted materials from the body to make way for new ones. It means consuming your own cells, especially the damaged ones. The understanding of autophagy is still in the preliminary stages. However, there have been promising studies that found autophagy to increase the effectiveness of cancer and Parkinson’s disease treatments. Also, autophagy delays aging.

Factors that trigger autophagy:

  • Intermittent fasting:

Intermittent fasting may be done in three modes. Alternate-day fasting is the method where you eat a normal diet one day and either completely fast or have one small meal (less than 500 calories) the next day. 5:2 fasting is where you eat a normal diet 5 days a week and fast 2 days a week. Time-restricted fasting is eating normally but only within an 8-hour window each day. For example, skipping breakfast but eating lunch around noon and dinner by 8 p.m.

One research review found that autophagy induced by intermittent fasting enhances the effect of cancer treatment by alleviating the treatment’s side effects.

In a study conducted on mice, intermittent fasting was shown to improve cognitive function and the brain’s ability (neuroplasticity) to rewire itself after a brain injury.

  • Eat a high-fat, low-carb diet:

Eating a diet high in fats but low in carbs causes the body to burn more fat.

When you fast, the energy comes primarily from the stored fat instead of carbohydrates. If you follow a diet, such as a keto (ketogenic) diet, which is a high-fat, low-carb diet, your body derives energy in the same way as it does during fasting triggering autophagy. However, the keto diet is to be done only under medical supervision. It is not meant for everyone and may damage heart muscles in long run.

Exercise triggers autophagy by putting the body, especially the skeletal muscles under stress.

A study observed that treadmill exercise conducted for 8 weeks on mice modulated the levels of autophagy-associated proteins and improved autophagy.

A good night’s sleep gives you the added benefit of inducing autophagy. An animal study suggests that autophagy follows the sleep-wake cycle and short interruptions of sleep seem to disrupt autophagy.

  • Curcumin:

Curcumin is a naturally occurring chemical found in the popular spice, turmeric. Some animal studies suggest that its intake might trigger autopsy.

A study has found the benefit of curcumin intake in mice grappling with diabetic neuropathy by inducing autophagy.

Though much of the research show autophagy is triggered by the above factors and is beneficial, it is important to remember that much of the autophagy research is in its early stages.

Intermittent fasting is not recommended for children, pregnant, and lactating mothers, as well as for people with disorders, such as diabetes. Similarly, a ketogenic diet might worsen the condition of people with kidney disorders. Before resorting to any of the measures for inducing autophagy, ask your doctor if that is right for you.

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Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, et al. Short-Term Fasting Induces Profound Neuronal Autophagy. Autophagy. August 16, 2010;6(6):702-10.

He C, Sumpter, Jr R, Levine B. Exercise Induces Autophagy in Peripheral Tissues and in the Brain. Autophagy. October 16, 2012;8(10):1548-51.

Antunes F, Erustes AG, Costa AJ, et al. Autophagy and Intermittent Fasting: The Connection for Cancer Therapy? Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2018;73(suppl 1):e814s.