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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Autophagy: Definition, Health Benefits, Diet and More

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According to Priya Khorana, Ph.D., in nutrition education from Colombia university, autophagy is referred to as the body’s way of clearing out damaged cells, so that newer and healthier cells can be regenerated.

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“Auto” refers to self, while “phagy” means eat. Thus, the meaning of autophagy is “self-devouring” or “self-eating.” While that may seem like an idea for a horror movie, the phenomenon is indeed beneficial to our health.

Autophagy is an evolutionary self-preserving mechanism that the body uses to expel dysfunctional cells. It also channels part of these cells toward cellular cleaning and repair.

Studies have shown that autophagy helps the body to remove debris and regulate itself back to optimal function.

According to Dr. Luiza Petre, a board-certified cardiologist, “It is recycling and cleaning at the same time, just like hitting a reset button to your body. Plus, it promotes survival and adaptation as a response to various stressors and toxins accumulated in our cells.”

Benefits of autophagy

The significant benefits of autophagy seem to present itself in the form of anti-aging principles. Petre referred to it as the body’s way of turning back the hand of time and creating younger and healthier cells.

When our cells are stressed, we experience increased autophagy in order to remain healthy, hence, enhancing our lifespan.

Scott aleatory, who is a registered dietitian, explains that in times of shortage of food, autophagy helps the body by breaking down cellular material and recycling it for necessary processes.

He also adds that the process takes energy and wouldn’t continue forever, but this gives us more time to get nourishment.

Benefits of autophagy at the cellular level include:

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  • Encourages regeneration of healthy cells
  • Reusing residual protein
  • Supplying energy and building blocks for cells that need repair
  • Eliminating toxic protein from cells that associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  • It also plays a role in the prevention and treatment of cancer

Keatley adds that “Autophagy declines as we age, so this means cells that no longer work or may do harm are allowed to multiply, which is the MO of cancer cells.”

Petre says that, while all cancers emerge from some defective cells, that the body recognizes and eliminates those cells, often using the process of autophagy. This explains why some researchers are studying the possibility of autophagy, helping to minimize the risk of cancer.

While there is no scientific evidence to support this, Petre added some studies suggest that several cancerous cells can be eliminated through autophagy. Experts believe that current studies will lead to the insight that will help professionals target autophagy as a cancer therapy.

What dietary changes can help to boost autophagy?

Since autophagy means “self-eating,” it would make sense that ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting should trigger the autophagy process. Fasting being the most effective way to activate autophagy.

Ketosis is a diet that’s low in carbs and high in fat and can be used to get the same effect as fasting without actually fasting.

When the body is not overwhelmed with an external burden, it gives the body a reason to focus on its healing and repair. In keto diet, you can get 70% of your daily calories from fat, and 8-10% of calories from carbs. The shift in calorie sourcing forces the body to shift its metabolic pathways. The body then begins to use fat as fuel instead of glucose.

In reaction to this restriction, the body starts to produce ketone bodies that have several protective properties. When our body is deprived of sugar through ketosis or fasting, it triggers the positive stress that activates the surviving repair mode in us.

Another non-diet activity that plays a role in inducing autophagy in the body is exercise. A study has it that physical exercise may be used to induce autophagy in human organs. This includes the liver, muscles, adipose tissues, and pancreas.


Experts are presently researching the impact of autophagy on our health. There are still several things we don’t understand about autophagy that requires attention.

Autophagy can’t be stimulated by including regular exercise and fasting into your routine. Nonetheless, it’s advised that you consult with your doctor, especially if you’re on any sensitive medications, breastfeeding, pregnant, or planning to get pregnant.

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You also need to consider your health if you are dealing with severe health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

What are your thoughts? Do you suppose autophagy is something you’d like to try? Is it something you’ve tried before? If yes, kindly share what you think with us in the comments below.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.
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