Autophagy Is Activated By Intermittent Fasting But, How?

Autophagy Is Activated By Intermittent Fasting But, How?

Fasting has long been practiced throughout the centuries to develop spiritual strength.

In more recent times, however, fasting for weight loss has gained significant popularity. 

It has also been shown to have other health benefits.

One of them and perhaps most importantly, is its potential to increase your lifespan. 

The key lies in activating a process called autophagy through intermittent fasting. 

A brief distinction between dieting and intermittent fasting should be made however before looking deeper into autophagy. 

Working together

First off, dieting is different from intermittent fasting.

The two terms are not interchangeable. They involve different approaches to managing food intake and can have distinct goals and effects on your body.

Dieting mainly deals with restricting the types of foods you eat and the amount of calories you consume. It helps with weight management, enhancing nutrition, and managing medical conditions.

Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is time-restricted eating. You may only eat within a certain number of hours and then fast for the majority of the day.

It is primarily used for detoxification, improved focus, health, and spiritual purposes.

Combining intermittent fasting and dieting can naturally lead to better results for weight loss and other health benefits.

Intermittent fasting however is a more potent method to activate autophagy due to nutrient deprivation. 

Dieting on the other hand can also encourage the autophagic process though to a lesser degree, through caloric restriction.

Clean the system

Now, autophagy is a cellular process triggered by fasting. 

Its etymology has Greek origins where “auto” means self and “phagy” translates to eating.

This “self-eating” process involves the breaking down and recycling of damaged or non-functioning cellular components.

Cells use their aging or damaged parts for energy to maintain cellular homeostasis and promote survival.

This usually happens during times of stress, such as:

  • Nutrient deprivation
  • Infection, or 
  • Exposure to toxins

The body primarily uses stored glycogen (carbohydrate stores) for energy. 

Once glycogen reserves are depleted, typically after 10 to 12 hours of fasting, the body begins to rely more on fat stores for fuel. 

This shift in energy metabolism, particularly the decrease in circulating insulin levels and increase in glucagon and ketone bodies, triggers cellular responses, including the activation of autophagy.

Note however that the autophagic process will activate depending on your rate of metabolism, body composition, and health status.

The required fasting hours for activation vary though the rate of autophagy usually increases between 12 to 16 hours.

Credit where credit is due

Autophagy as a cellular process was initially discovered by Dr. Christian de Duve in the 1950s. 

The term “autophagy” itself however was only coined in 1963.

He suggested that autophagy works by enclosing parts of the cell in little sacs with two layers of membrane. 

These sacs then join with lysosomes, where the contents are broken down and recycled.

He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974, along with Drs. Albert Claude and George E. Palade “for their discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell.”

This laid the groundwork for Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi, who also won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2016, “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy” 

The difference between the two discoveries is that the earlier work was more general in scope. It provided initial insights into the existence and general function of autophagy.

Dr. Ohsumi’s work however delved down into the molecular level. It significantly advanced our understanding of autophagy by uncovering the specific genes and proteins involved in its regulation and execution. 

He discovered special autophagy-related genes (ATG) that are important for autophagy. He also studied structures called autophagosomes and proteins that help with autophagy.

This established the foundation to better understand how cells handle:

  • Malnutrition and infections
  • Causes of certain hereditary and neurological diseases, and 
  • Cancer

Access autophagy

There are different ways that intermittent fasting can activate autophagy.

It does this by primarily altering metabolic and cellular signaling pathways in response to changes in nutrient availability.

Here are some ways autophagy is activated through intermittent fasting:

Insulin and Glucagon Regulation: During fasting, insulin levels decrease while glucagon levels rise. Insulin inhibits autophagy, whereas glucagon (a hormone) stimulates it. This shift in hormonal balance promotes autophagy.

AMPK and mTOR Pathways: Intermittent fasting triggers AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a cellular energy sensor that promotes autophagy. AMPK inhibits the mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) pathway, a key regulator of cell growth and metabolism. Inhibition of mTOR signaling is known to stimulate autophagy.

Energy Depletion: Intermittent fasting leads to a depletion of cellular energy stores, such as glycogen. Energy depletion signals the cells to conserve energy and recycle cellular components, triggering autophagy.

Beyond weight loss

Autophagy plays a big role in boosting your health and longevity.

It helps remove damaged or dysfunctional cellular components, such as misfolded proteins and aged organelles, promoting cellular renewal and maintaining cellular health.

By maintaining cellular homeostasis, autophagy delays the aging process. It reduces the accumulation of cellular damage and promotes longevity.

On top of that, it improves metabolic health by regulating cellular metabolism and energy balance. 

Autophagy enhances insulin sensitivity, regulates lipid metabolism, and protects against obesity-related complications.

It also supports immune function and defense against infections.

But wait, there’s more.

Autophagy is involved in immune responses, including the clearance of intracellular pathogens, presentation of antigens to immune cells, and regulation of inflammatory signaling pathways. 

It plays a crucial role in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's diseases. The removal of protein aggregates and damaged organelles from neurons prevents their accumulation and toxicity.

Autophagy also plays a role in cancer prevention. 

It acts as a tumor suppressor mechanism by removing damaged or mutated proteins and organelles. This inhibits inflammation and promotes cell death of potentially cancerous cells. 

In established tumors, however, autophagy may also promote cancer cell survival under certain conditions.

Lastly, autophagy contributes to the maintenance of cardiovascular health by:

• Removing damaged proteins and organelles

• Regulating lipid metabolism, and 

• Protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke

Stop to start 

Intermittent fasting induces autophagy when your body’s energy stores become depleted after a certain period.

Your body then gains access to the many benefits brought about by autophagy.

What was once used for spiritual development or strengthening religious beliefs has solid health and longevity benefits as well.

Knowing this, it makes sense to practice intermittent fasting daily.

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