Hello and welcome to health bites!
HEALTH BITES is a short podcast meant to provide you with some basic understanding of the often-times complex concepts that are central to the many biological processes responsible for extending our health span.
Today, I want to share with you the awe and mystery of autophagy.
Autophagy plays a leading role in many of the life-hacks that have a major impact on your health-span.
We touched a bit on it back when I talked about zombie cells.
Autophagy literally means self-eating and that is exactly what happens to cells when they are in the state of autophagy. They literally consume all the junk protein by-products from everyday metabolism along with other pieces of cellular components that accumulate within the cells. Your body then breaks it down and re-uses the basic components for other cellular processes.
This process is related to apoptosis, where cells commit suicide and die. In the great scheme of things autophagy is a cell’s 1st line of defense when it is damaged and becoming non-functional. If autophagy fails to get the cell back to functionality, then they throw in the towel and commit hari-kari, through the process of apoptosis. That’s a good thing because it triggers your body to produce new cells to replace them.
There are several types of autophagy. The differences are in the type of cell that the autophagy occurs and what triggers it within those cells. For those of us interested in health-span, we are more interested in two forms of autophagy.
One is mitophagy. This occurs when your mitochondria, the little engines of our cells, go through the process of autophagy. This results in our mitochondria becoming more efficient, much like a tune-up for your car. It enables our metabolism to run more efficiently without causing oxidative stress on our bodies. Mitophagy also causes our body to create new mitochondria so it’s like throwing a new engine into that car of yours. That’s a good thing. If mitophagy is diminished by age or other processes then it could lead to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s’ disease, and kidney disease.
The other prominent anti-aging autophagy is called Xenophagy. This is how the cells of your immune system remember threats from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
Autophagy is a vital function for maintaining our health. So how do we help our bodies to increase our level of autophagy?
Autophagy is typically triggered when our bodies are in stress. This can often come from external stresses such as changes in our environment such as the heat stress produced by sitting in a hot sauna or from exercise.
Exercise has been shown to effectively trigger autophagy in the brain, and with the liver, pancreas, adipose tissues, and muscles. This is one of the reasons why exercise is so effective at increasing health-span as well as helping to protect us against chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Fasting also triggers autophagy in our entire body. Particularly with prolonged fasting of 3 days or more. Dr. Valter Longo, out of USC, has found that prolonged fasting with the fasting-mimicking diet, will substantially increase autophagy throughout your entire body.
The beauty of the fasting-mimicking diet is that it provides the health and anti-aging benefits of a traditional 5 -day water fast while it prevents extreme hunger cravings, along with other potential health risks.