by Valerie Demetros
Everyone wants to live better, longer. The question is how to achieve that and still live a happy, fulfilling life.
Researchers are now looking at autophagy as a way to combat aging and other diseases. No, it’s not a new exercise or medication but a term for your body’s response to fasting.
Autophagy is a biological, cellular cleansing process linked to a longer, healthier lifespan, improved metabolism, enhanced energy production and weight loss (particularly abdominal fat).
Evidence is building that it also protects from diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Autophagy happens in most cells to maintain homeostasis during nutrient depletion. So when there isn’t enough nutrition (like during fasting) the cells get their energy by using their dysfunctional, damaged or toxic components and breaking them down for energy.
It sounds complicated, but the process is naturally occurring. Unfortunately, modern diets and lifestyle habits don’t trigger it since people usually eat and drink the majority of their time awake.
Autophagy also helps to eliminate free radicals and may help with certain cancer treatments. Free radicals are those unstable molecules that can cause damage to DNA, lipids and proteins, and are tied to cancer risk.
Fasting also can protect normal cells from cancer-fighting treatments and possibly reduce side effects.
Evidence also shows intermittent fasting triggers a metabolic switch from using glucose as an energy source to using ketones, which are generated by the body when glucose stores are low. The result is increased stress resilience, longevity and a lower rate of disease.
But even though autophagy has impressive benefits, there’s no magical internal switch that turns it on. If you want to reap the benefits, you have to induce it through limiting calories and a healthy lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting or calorie reduction can induce autophagy. Fasting can be done either intermittently or one to two days a week.
To enter a fasted state, most studies recommend a 16:8 fast, meaning a 16-hour window fasting and an 8-hour window of eating.
For certain ages and fitness levels, those windows can be 16:8, 12:12 or even 18:6. If you are healthy, intermittent fasting is essentially beneficial. However, speak to your doctor first if you have diabetes, hypothyroidism or adrenal gland dysfunction.
The important thing is to start slowly.
Jumping into it too quickly can leave you hangry and lightheaded, especially if you’re used to spreading out your calories throughout the day. Start slowly and work your way up to whatever you feel is working for you.
It is also important to focus on not only when, but what you eat — specifically the right nutrients, proteins, fats and fibers. Fasting and then eating cookies and ice cream won’t do the trick (unfortunately).
Proper nutrition, adequate sleep and regular movement also are vital to healthy cells and a long life. So incorporate these into your intermittent fasting to successfully stimulate autophagy.
Long-term success rates tend to be much higher for those who have ongoing support, so engage with your trainer, doctor and support system for guidance, motivation and ongoing health monitoring.