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In the wellness world these days, there’s a new(ish) concept, labeled ‘autophagy’
Autophagy is your cellular salvage, cleaning and recycling system.
The literal translation of the word ‘autophagy’ is ‘self-eating’ and, while that might not sound all that appealing, the biological process is actually very cool. We are all made up of billions of cells and eventually their components start to wear out, becoming dysfunctional, diseased or just no longer able to function at their peak. But instead of simply throwing the dinged-up cells in the garbage, the body’s clever autophagic process kicks in, stripping out the still-salvageable parts and recycling them to use for energy and to create new cells.
Autophagy helps protect your body from disease.
Autophagy can be likened to a cellular fountain of youth, delivering an impressive array of preventative benefits protecting us from dysfunction and disease:
- It controls inflammation, boosting it as needed to fight off pathogens, decreasing it as needed, so cells don’t remain in an inflamed state indefinitely, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation
- It regulates mitochondrial function, protecting our mitochondria (the energy
power housesof our cells) from oxidative stress
- It promotes brain health and
protectagainst Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia, by removing the misshapen proteins whose accumulation is associated with the development of neurological disorders
- It boosts immunity, by fending off pathogens and removing illness-inducing microbes from inside the cells, clearing toxins, and regulating inflammation
- It prevents metabolic dysfunction, like diabetes and obesity by promoting cellular health and turnover
- It supports muscular repair and resilience (a major plus for maintaining youth), by replacing the cells that have been worn out or ‘stressed’ by exercise, with fresh, healthy cells
When does autophagy peak?
After about 16 hours of fasting.
Fuel your autophagy furnace.
Right now, how can we boost the process to maximize the health-promoting benefits and age more gracefully? Here are a few ways to help turn up the temperature on your autophagy furnace with the right foods, plus a few healthy habits to help you induce autophagy and harness its power:
Autophagy-Boosting Foods and Supportive Supplements
- Spices like turmeric, garlic and ginger activate autophagy, so feel free to spice up your plate.
- Drinks like green tea, ginseng tea and coffee (with or without caffeine) help induce autophagy, most likely due to their high polyphenol content.
- High Polyphenol foods like berries, plums, cherries, nuts (pecans, almonds and hazelnuts), beans (black and white), artichokes, spinach, red onions, cocoa and dark chocolate,
- Other tasty ingredients like coconut oil, certain mushrooms (chaga and reishi), cruciferous vegetables, onions, parsley, cloves, green peas, pomegranates also have an activating effect.
- Supportive supplements like Quercetin, Curcumin, Omega-3 fish oils, Vitamin D, MCT Oil, Resveratrol and Nicotinamide r
ibosideand can also activate autophagy
- Intermittent fasting – which, by creating a caloric deficit for up to 16 hours at a time, lightly stresses the body, which in turn helps trigger autophagy.
- Low carb eating – or, in its most aggressive form, the ketogenic diet, which, by radically reducing carb intake, triggers ketosis, turning fat into a clean-burning fuel source. That’s a bit of ‘good’ cellular stress that promotes autophagy.
- Protein fasting – as in reducing protein grams to roughly 20 per day, no more than once or twice a week and not on days when you plan to do some strength training – save protein fasting for your lighter effort days.
- Short bouts of intense movement – like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), resistance training, power-walking, running, etc., for about 20-30 minutes every other day. HIIT and exercise
in general helpsactivate autophagy by lightly stressing the body and its cells, but don’t over-do it or you’ll be courting real cellular damage. Less is definitely more in this case.
- Good restorative sleep – as in, getting at least 7-8 hours of high-quality shut-eye which will help induce autophagy, much of which is happening while you snooze.
- Play with temperature – Swim in a cool pool, then dip in the hot tub or sauna (or visa
versa); have a cold shower, then a sauna and back to the cold shower again; or spend a few minutes outdoors in the cold without burying yourself in layers of fleece. The temperature swings between cold and hot will also lightly stress your cells and encourage autophagy.
While our scientific understanding of autophagy continues to evolve, the bottom line is that autophagy-supporting behaviors – like what and when you eat, good restorative sleep, how you move your body and what supplements you may take – are good, anti-aging, health habits that we all should put to work in the service for our bodies.