How many of you have heard of the word “autophagy”?  What does it mean?  If you have ever done a fasting program it is possible you would have heard of this.  Basically, the word autophagy is derived from the Greek words ‘auto’ – meaning ‘self’ and ‘phagein’ – meaning ‘to eat’.  So, the word literally means to eat oneself.  Say what?  Autophagy is simply a natural process by which our cells disassemble and remove their waste products.  When you trigger autophagy, you allow components of your healthy cells to hunt out dead or diseased cells and then eat them.  It is a regulated, orderly process to degrade and recycle cellular components by ‘lysosomes’ (the part of the cell that destroys stuff).  It’s like taking out the garbage.  This is actually very similar to what is called ‘apoptosis’ also known as ‘programmed cell death’.  Cells divide over and over however after a certain number of divisions the cells become old and are not able to do their jobs any more so they are then programmed to die.  This is an essential part of life to maintain good health.  What activates autophagy?  Nutrient deprivation is the key activator of autophagy.  When we fast, our insulin level goes down and our glucagon level goes up which stimulates the process of autophagy.  During sleep, we are essentially fasting which is a huge boost to autophagy.  When we wake up and eat, especially sugar (glucose), we turn off autophagy, so the process of autophagy is unique to fasting.  Of course, as with anything, there needs to be a balance.  Too much autophagy is just as bad as too little and will make you sick.  This brings us back to the natural cycle of life – feast and fast.  This allows for cell growth during eating, and cellular cleansing during the fasting times.  It’s all about balance.

Keep in mind, when I am referring to ‘fasting’ I am referring to the times in which we are not eating, such as when we are sleeping.  Doing an intermittent fast has been shown to be very helpful to stimulate autophagy.  You would be better off consuming no calories at all and doing an intermittent fast, rather than breaking your fast with a small number of calories and stopping autophagy.  For example; let’s say you eat dinner around 6 p.m.  You go to bed and get up at 6 a.m.  So, you haven’t eaten anything for 12 hours, however it takes 6-8 hours for your body to digest the dinner you had the night before.  Only after that 6-8 hours is when you start your fasting time.  Technically, you’ve only had 4-6 hours of fasting which is why they recommend that you do intermittent fasting.  Intermittent fasting typically lasts 24-48 hours and is done once per week but there are many different variations of it.  Also, know that exercise helps to stimulate autophagy so whether you do an intermittent fast or not, keep up your exercise regime.  The benefits of autophagy include: reduces inflammation, strengthens immune system, slows down the aging process, eats up cancerous cells and tumors, and kills toxins and infectious agents, basically cleaning out the bad stuff from your body (the garbage) and helping the protecting agents (our bodies soldiers) to keep us healthy.

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