Autophagy is a cellular process induced by fasting, which may lead to fat and weight loss, as well as other health benefits. Derived from the Greek word for “self-eating,” the word autophagy (au-TAH-fuh-gee) is not included in everyday speech. After doing due diligence to autophagy’s benefits, you may realize that “autophagy” has joined your vocabulary.
The health benefits of autophagy gained global acclaim when Japanese biologist Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2016. His ground-breaking findings about autophagy’s mechanisms of action rocked the scientific and fasting worlds.
What is Autophagy?
Autophagy continuously maintains the equilibrium of the human body. The adage “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” aptly characterizes autophagy’s function as a recycling process at the cellular, tissue, and biological organism levels. In other words, autophagy constantly repairs the body’s “trash,” such as damaged cell parts, to utilize it as renewed energy and a contributor to new cell growth.
Fasting for given periods of time initiates autophagy. The mere thought of intermittent fasting (IF) is anathema to the general population. However, refraining from eating for periods of time induces fat loss, which may lead to weight loss and deliver health benefits.
The IF lifestyle, i.e., not a fad diet, entails alternating eating windows with periods of fasting. A popular starting point for people who want to try IF is to follow the 16:8 method. An individual would fast 16 consecutive hours daily and eat during the remaining eight-hour window. Many IFers find this method easy-to-follow and eventually embark on more challenging fasting patterns.
Autophagy-Related Fat and Weight Loss “Once on the lips, forever on the hips.” So true. How do you lose that visceral fat on your hips and abdominal area? Limit and control foods that spike your insulin.
As we ingest caloric food and beverages, the carbohydrates in them are broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream. The pancreas detects heightened blood glucose and begins secreting insulin.
Insulin helps the cells acquire the blood glucose and temporarily store it in the liver and muscles as glycogen. After the glycogen storage is full, the excess is transformed into, and stored as, fat. Conversely, when the glycogen stores are expended, the body begins to burn fat, which leads to weight loss.
Autophagy-Related Health Benefits
Autophagy also may provide some noteworthy health benefits including anti-aging. No, this is not a gimmick. Remember that autophagy is at least as old as the existence of homo sapiens. This process repairs damaged cells, organ tissues, and biological organisms, occurring more often as we age. Fasting is necessary to make this happen!
In addition to the reduction of visceral fat and overall fat mass, potential health benefits of autophagy may include: the reversal of type 2 diabetes mellitus, renewal of skin cells, improvement of gastrointestinal homeostasis, the reduction of neurodegenerative diseases, and possibly hinder the early onset of certain cancers. For example, autophagy may lower one’s hemoglobulin A1c measurement, an indicator of how well one’s body has controlled blood sugar over the past three months.
I hope you have become familiar with the basics of autophagy. Having started IF earlier in 2021, I have lost inches and pounds (kilograms or stones) but look forward to the months ahead to attain my goal weight. IF will continue as my eating lifestyle. I end this piece by sharing this sports snippet that summarizes the benefits of autophagy:
At age 50, professional golfer Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship golf event. By doing so, he beat players who are half his age. The media wanted to know how Mickelson, the oldest man to win a major golf tournament, was successful. Noticeably leaner and stronger, a glowing Mickelson responded that a fasting lifestyle was the key to his weight loss and renewed energy.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The health benefits section of this piece is partly based on animal studies. With that said, Dr. Ohsumi’s Nobel Prize has encouraged the global research community to “deep dive” into human autophagy. At the time of this writing, at least eighty worldwide clinical trials are in various stages of research.
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