Your body is amazing; it’s constantly renewing itself and repairing the damage caused by things like pollution, exercise, toxins, and the aging process. Of course, slowly but surely, cellular breakdown exceeds the body’s ability to repair and recover, which is why we get older and eventually die. However, there are ways to speed up and enhance the recovery process, which is often called autophagy.
Autophagy is how your body clears out damaged cells to make space for new, healthier cells. Auto means “self” while phagy means “eat.” In simple terms, the process of autophagy means self-eating, which is sort of how your body gets rid of those old, damaged cells.
The process of autophagy is entirely natural. It happens automictically when your body is at rest. It’s a process of recycling and cleaning that ensures your cells regenerate and remain healthy. There is no autophagy diet as such; in fact, eating too frequently could mean that the process of autophagy happens less than it should.
In this article, we reveal the benefits of autophagy and how to make this process happen longer and more often.
The Autophagy Diet
The Benefits of Autophagy
Autophagy is a sort of cellular spring cleaning. During autophagy, your body breaks down and removes old, damaged cells and replaces them with new ones.
If those old cells were allowed to build up, your health would suffer, you would age faster, and you may be more at risk of cancer.
After all, cancer is the unregulated growth of unhealthy cells which take over healthy cells and organs, causing them to fail.
The benefits of autophagy are:
- A slower aging process
- Reduced risk of neurological conditions, including dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s
- Increased energy and vitality
- Improved mental health
- Weight management
- Less inflammation
- Decreased insulin resistance
- Improved immunity and better resistance to infections
- Protection from and treatment of cancer
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Lowered risk of osteoporosis
Autophagy is your body’s way of replacing worn-out parts and keeping itself healthy. It’s a survival mechanism designed to maintain your well-being and prolong your life. Unfortunately, some lifestyle choices mean that autophagy doesn’t always happen as often or for as long as it should.
How to Increase Autophagy
Autophagy tends to be inhibited when:
- You eat a lot of refined carbs and sugar
- You eat too often
- You are sedentary
- You are stressed
Removing these barriers will help increase autophagy. Ways to do this include:
The ketogenic diet involves eating minimal carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, and large amounts of healthy dietary fats. This puts you into a state called ketosis, which is where the diet gets its name.
Ketosis has been shown to increase autophagy, mainly because you can’t eat refined carbs and sugar on keto, both of which are autophagy blockers.
Going keto means cutting foods like bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, most fruit, and processed carbs and sugars from your diet. Instead, you eat lots of meat, fish, eggs, leafy greens, and non-starchy vegetables instead with plenty of natural fats, such as olive oil, nuts, butter, and coconut oil.
Being in ketosis can help you lose fat while retaining muscle, but this diet is not suitable for everyone. Staying in ketosis is not always easy, and the ketogenic diet can be too restrictive for some. In addition, it may not be safe for people with liver or kidney problems.
Digesting food requires energy and puts the brakes on autophagy. That’s why most autophagy tends to occur at night, while you are sleeping and therefore not eating. During the waking hours, a lot of people eat almost constantly, which further interferes with autophagy.
Even if you just eat 3-4 meals and snacks a day, each time you eat decreases autophagy.
Fasting means purposely skipping meals and provides your body with the time and energy it needs to focus on removing and replacing those unwanted, damaged cells. You don’t have to forgo food for long to maximize autophagy; simply pushing breakfast back to lunchtime will give your body more time for autophagy.
Fasting doesn’t mean that you can’t drink water and other non-caloric fluids. You need to stay hydrated for autophagy to occur. In fact, dehydration could impede autophagy, so drink up.
Many of the longest-living populations practice intermittent fasting, and their long lives are often attributed to increased autophagy.
Regular exercise, both cardio and strength training, cause damage at a cellular level. While this might sound worrying, it’s this damage that is the stimulus for increased autophagia. Your body responds to the demands of exercise by increasing levels of autophagosomes, which are what it uses to mop up and remove those damaged cells.
It’s unclear exactly how much exercise you need to do to maximize autophagy, but 150 minutes per week in 20 to 30-minute bouts should be sufficient. In other words, try to do some form of exercise most days of the week.
Get Enough Sleep
Skipping meals increases autophagia, but the process of removing dead and damaged cells goes into overdrive when you are asleep. It makes sense that the longer you sleep, the more autophagy can occur. Most adults need 7-9 hours sleep per night, and while you can get by on less, that doesn’t mean you should.
Getting more sleep is usually the result of going to bed earlier. That means turning off the TV before the late-night news or movie starts. Work back eight or so hours from the time you have to get up; that’s your new bedtime.
Stress causes a significant rise in blood glucose, and processing blood glucose means your body won’t have the time or energy necessary for efficient autophagia. Stress is not always easy to avoid, but if you want to maximize cell renewal, anything you can do that lowers your stress levels will be very beneficial.
Good ways to avoid and manage your stress include:
- Better time management
- Regular exercise
- Breathing exercises
- Reducing your caffeine intake
- Learning to delegate
- Avoiding perfectionism
- Talking about stress with someone you trust
- Spending time in nature
- Setting work/home boundaries
What Foods and Supplements Are Good for Autophagy?
As stated earlier, there is no official autophagy diet. In fact, one of the best ways to increase autophagia is to avoid eating altogether.
Not eating means your body has the time and energy it needs to focus on ridding itself of those worn, old cells and replacing them with new ones.
That said, there are several foods and supplements that may enhance this process, listed in alphabetical order:
- Broccoli sprouts
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Chaga and reishi mushrooms
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Ginkgo biloba
- Green tea
- MCT oil and coconut oil
- Resveratrol and red wine
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
What Foods Stop Autophagy?
Autophagia takes about 14 hours of fasting to kick in, and anything consumed during that time will delay autophagia or reduce the rate of autophagy. That means all foods can stop autophagy.
That said, refined carbs, processed sugars, and junk foods are the most significant barriers to autophagia and should be avoided if you want to maximize the effect of autophagy. This means no soda, candy, cookies, takeouts, and other sources of junk food.
As remarkable as your body is, it’s not very good at multitasking. When you eat or drink, it has to put a lot of time, effort, and energy into digesting and utilizing whatever you’ve consumed, and it doesn’t have a lot of time for anything else.
But, when you sleep and fast, your body has the resources necessary to get busy removing and replacing old, worn, and damaged cells. The process of autophagia can delay the aging process and helps you stay healthier – physically and mentally.
A lot of people eat on a schedule, and not when they’re hungry. As such, their bodies are almost always digesting food, and autophagia cannot occur – even when you sleep.
Try to give your body a break from food for 14 hours to allow autophagia to occur. You don’t need to do this every day; studies suggest that 2-3 fasts per week can be very beneficial.
There is no autophagy diet. Instead, the best way to trigger this process is by NOT eating. However, a few foods and supplements may increase autophagia, and exercise and sleep will help too.