The longevity-boosting, disease-preventing cellular process that we are referring to is called autophagy. It eliminates damaged cells and debris, and regenerates newer, healthier cells. It’s a cellular cleansing process analogous to cleaning your house.
The goal with aging is to age well, and autophagy is key to just this. Autophagy not only predicts how healthy we are, but also how long we live.
Autophagy literally translates to self (“auto”)- eating (“phagy”) and that’s exactly what this process does (in a good way). The molecular process of autophagy is imperative to overall health and longevity as it works to correct dysfunctional cells (which are at the root of disease).
Autophagy is like the cellular fountain of youth.
Autophagy is the self-devouring regulatory process of the cells, in which damaged cells and their debris are destroyed as part of the “house cleaning” process. This removal of old, damaged cells leaves room for the creation of new, healthy cells. Autophagy is also a key process for regulating cell division and proliferation, and thus helps to prevent cancer formation.
Often, autophagy is a process that lies dormant or is reduced due to an individual’s poor diet and lifestyle practices. Excess weight, exposure to toxins, elevated levels of inflammation, poor diet and chronic stress can all impact the level of autophagy that can occur within the body.
When autophagy is reduced, or cells are dysfunctional and cannot perform their duties, then disease can occur.
Autophagy is the key “self-eating” molecular process required for cellular health. Essentially, cells have to eat themselves to live and thrive. This consumption of cellular parts is needed to regulate mitochondrial function, increase the cell’s ability to handle stressors, generate energy, coordinate metabolism and promote cellular survival. Indeed, the process of autophagy is a critical regulator of a wide range of diseases.
The process of autophagy is well-researched with regards to its impacts on neurological benefits. Autophagy is a fundamental process for brain health as it removes toxic proteins such as misfolded proteins that are associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. This is important as the development and progression of neurodegeneration is driven by misfolded proteins. In fact, there is established evidence for autophagic activity to predict the severity of neurodegenerative disease.
A recent study published in Circulation Research revealed that decreased levels of autophagy are associated with cardiovascular disease and decline. Therefore, the study concluded that processes that induce autophagy play a crucial role in regulating cardiac aging and reducing age-related decline of the heart. According to the study, autophagy promotes aspects of healthy cardiac aging including increased nitric oxide, decreased cell damage, reduced inflammation, decreased artery wall thickening and improved endothelial function.
Research has shown that autophagy has a role in both innate and adaptive immunity and thus is responsible, in part, for regulating inflammation. Autophagy aids in reducing the development of inflammation and destroying inflammatory cells. The process of autophagy can both induce and suppress inflammation, an important regulatory task that can predict one’s risk of inflammatory disease. The two main cellular responses to physiological stressors are autophagy and inflammation. Therefore, it makes sense that the regulation and balance of these two processes is key.
Autophagy is key to preventing cancer. It helps our bodies be more efficient at eliminating toxins and harmful cellular debris (essentially getting rid of “faulty parts” of the cellular machinery). This process is also essential to regulating cellular proliferation, a hallmark of cancer. A 2011 study highlighted the role of autophagy in cancer, concluding that autophagy is required for cellular function, differentiation of cells and the prevention of cancer.
Arguably one of the best ways to trigger autophagy is through fasting. Fasting up regulates autophagy within organ systems. Intermittent fasting and time restricted eating put good stress on the body, which in turn activates autophagy. This is because autophagy reduces the hormonal levels of insulin and glucagon. Once these hormones are decreased, the body becomes “positively stressed” and goes into repair mode. The central, metabolic regulator of this process in cells is known as the TOR complex, and when the availability of amino acids and growth factors is low (in a state of physiological stress), then autophagy is induced. This stressor practice is known as “hormesis” and it provides stimulus for healthier cells and stronger survival.
Low-carb eating is another type of positive cellular stress (hormesis), which forces the body to alternate between fuel sources (burning glucose and ketones). A high-fat, low-carb diet mimics what happens during fasting and thus stimulates the process of autophagy. Eating less protein and more fat also allows your body to recycle its own proteins and cleanse its cells, an important part of the cellular cleanup.
(Jokes aside, we didn’t name this one.). Spermidine is a naturally- occurring polyamine. Dietary polyamines have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions in food. Spermidine is the main polyamine found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and is also produced by the gut microbiota. Spermidine content declines with age, and thus can be a risk factor for chronic disease. A 2018 study showed that an increased intake of spermidine is associated with increased levels of autophagy and subsequently a reduced risk of chronic disease.
Physical exercise can induce autophagy in key metabolic organs like the muscle, liver, and pancreas. Moving the body through activities like running, walking or high-intensity interval training, is a great way to stress the body’s cells and stimulate autophagy. Again, autophagy is a process that arises as a response to bodily stress. Stress your body just enough each day through physical activity to activate autophagy. Aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise daily.
Good quality and quantity of sleep is imperative to regenerating the body and promoting cellular turnover. Focus on a minimum of 7-8 hours of restorative sleep each night. Check out our top tips for sleep here. Circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycles, are an important component of autophagy activation. Sleeping in sync with circadian rhythm is also prudent for hormonal regulation and overall cellular health.
Stress is associated with increasing levels of cortisol and therefore can increase levels of glucose in the body, which down-regulates levels of autophagy that can occur in the body. While positive stressors for the body are good for the body, chronic (unmanaged) stress is bad. Focus on ways to alleviate your unhealthy stress so that your body can take care of itself.
According to the latest research, the key nutrients proven to boost autophagy are:
For a powerful combination of all of these autophagic nutrients, check out our Optilipid. Optilipid contains green tea extract, curcumin, ginger root, resveratrol and berberine, all of which are well-researched nutrients that have been shown to stimulate autophagy and prevent disease. Take 2 capsules per day for overall health and autophagy-promoting benefits.
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