Autophagy – it’s your body’s natural detox program. Here’s how to activate it.
You’ve tried juice cleanses, but have you tried autophagy? Read on to discover one of the most powerful methods of detoxing your entire body down to the cellular level.
What Is Autophagy?
Autophagy, literally translating as “self-eating” in Greek, is a process your body goes through to clean house of dead cells and debris that have accumulated over the years. It can be thought of as the ultimate detox for your system, as it’s one of the most potent natural processes to reach deep into the cellular level to remove DNA-damaging toxins and improve cell function.
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To understand how autophagy works, imagine your cells as a kitchen countertop. On its own, the countertop is a clean surface that serves as a base for prepping food for “energy.” On a normal day, the countertop is cleaned off after you prepare your food, so no crumbs accumulate.
However, if you have an extra-busy cooking day, or you have an event where the countertop is overflowing with food, those crumbs start to build up and rot. If you keep adding food to the fire, so to speak, things only get worse and the cleanup takes longer.
Autophagy is essentially that much needed cleanup crew. It swoops in to consume all the nasties in your cells, leaving your body detoxified and free to function normally once again.
The Benefits of Autophagy
As you might imagine, this process is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Read on to discover the powerful benefits of this process and how it even has the potential to increase your lifespan.
Autophagy is one of the most powerful ways to “detox” your body from toxins like chemicals and pesticides that may be taking up residence in your cells. By consuming foreign invaders (or encouraging your body’s immune system to get rid of them), autophagy effectively rids your cells of all kinds of harmful substances that could be causing inflammation and damage to your cell structure. (1)
One example is autophagy’s ability to detox ammonia, which can be found in many household cleaning products. Studies show that increased autophagy can actually remove ammonia from your liver, while also preventing it from accumulating. (2, 3)
As we age, our cells begin to accumulate toxins from our environment, along with damaged pieces of cell structures and molecules. Over time, these can disrupt normal cell function and damage DNA, which is what creates the typical signs of aging, such as wrinkles and degenerative diseases. (4)
Autophagy has the ability to remove this toxic debris before it has a chance to cause damage. Studies show this can actually extend lifespan in several species – namely because it helps to prevent diseases caused by DNA damage and mutation, such as cancer, in the first place. (5)
Prevents Neurodegenerative Disorders
Researchers have discovered that many neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, result from the accumulation of mutated proteins in and around brain cells. Eventually, these proteins build up to the point where the cells are damaged beyond repair and become either dysfunctional or die. (6) At this point we start to see the early stages of cognitive dysfunction, such as forgetfulness and mental fatigue.
Interestingly, autophagy has been shown to reduce specific proteins associated with the development of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia, offering a potential treatment and prevention strategy. (7, 8, 9)
Inflammation has been found to play a major role in chronic diseases. For this reason, it may be assumed that any and every kind of inflammation is “bad” and should be avoided. Of course, chronic widespread inflammation is never a good thing, but some inflammation is necessary in order to help heal wounds and boost your immune response to fight off disease.
Autophagy helps regulate inflammation in a way that keeps it working to your benefit. For instance, autophagy has been shown to help decrease inflammation by removing pro-inflammatory molecules from cells. (10) On the flip side, it can also create inflammation in order to promote a healing response or remove pathogens. (11)
Have you ever wondered why you lose your appetite when you’re sick? Part of the reason may be that your body is turning on autophagy to remove pathogens from your body – and fasting is one of the best ways to do it (which we’ll get into below).
Autophagy has been shown to not only kill bacteria and viruses in your cells, but also “show” them to your immune system so that it can work to remove them. As you might imagine, this is a potent double-whammy against any type of invading pathogen (aka that nasty flu bug). (12)
Inhibits Cancer Growth
The hallmark of cancer development and growth is damaged and mutated cells and DNA. Cells become damaged by a number of factors that create free radicals, including environmental toxins, a bad diet, and even chronic stress.
Autophagy has been shown to not only “clean up” these free radicals and mutated bits of cells, but also suppress certain processes that fuel cancer growth, such as chronic inflammation and tissue damage. (13) Interestingly, this could also work to prevent cancer development, as studies have shown that mice engineered to have limited autophagy experienced increased cancer rates. (14)
How to ‘Turn On’ Autophagy
Autophagy naturally kicks in when you experience certain types of physical stress. However, due to our modern lifestyles, we may not experience these on a daily – or even a weekly – basis. Read on to discover what these are and how you can use them to your autophagy-advantage.
One way autophagy is activated is through intense exercise. Studies show that activating autophagy through exercise not only gives you the above mentioned benefits, but can also help lower your glucose levels and help your metabolism run more efficiently – key components of burning fat and keeping it off. (15)
The takeaway? Be sure to get in an intense aerobic workout, such as a high-intensity interval training workouts, a couple times a week to increase autophagy.
Fasting is by far the best way to activate autophagy in your body. You can think of it this way: when your body runs out of cell “fuel” in the form of food, it begins to consume other components, such as fat and debris for energy as a replacement. Because your body is smart, it only “burns” things that aren’t necessary first, which includes any type of lingering waste or toxins. When you fast, you force your body into this cleanup state. (16)
Now, before you let the word “fasting” scare you off, know that you don’t need to go days without food to activate autophagy: you can simply practice an easier method called intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting involves eating within a specific window of time during your day, then fasting for the remainder. One of the most popular methods looks like this:
- 7 a.m.: Wake up (great time to work out)
- 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Break your fast
- 3 p.m.: Small meal, if needed
- 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.: Last meal of the day
- Fast until 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. the next day
This method gives you roughly 16-17 hours of fasting time each day to induce autophagy.
As you can see, autophagy is a powerful method for removing the waste that accumulates in our bodies from a lifetime of toxin exposure and damaged DNA. And the best part? It’s relatively easy to activate, so don’t be afraid to use this powerful natural tool to your advantage.
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