All About Autophagy

Follow me on Instagram: @ dr.laceychittle/

Follow me on Instagram: @dr.laceychittle/

If you’ve been following on Instagram me for a while, you know that I mention autophagy a LOT.

So what is autophagy?

Autophagy is an intracellular process occurring in all organs throughout the body at various rates.

It’s the natural, regulated mechanism of the cell that removes unnecessary or dysfunctional components. It allows the orderly degradation and recycling of cellular components.

In simpler terms, Autophagy is the “self eating” process within the cell, it’s when cells are told to breakdown, remove or recycle their parts. 

There is lots of confusion as to when autophagy occurs. The answer is, it is always happening to some degree. Autophagy however can be up-regulated to optimize cellular recycling and development of new cells, aka cellular biogenesis.

It is also postulated this process stimulates biogenesis, the making of new cells and their cellular components. 

To date, we have no direct measurements of autophagy, however in the lab measuring autophagic flux is our best correlate. Autophagic flux is the process by which the autophagosomes form and then become degraded. Autophagic Flux = LC3-II levels (with inhibitors) – LC3-II levels (without inhibitors).

This is geek speak for how we might be able to quantify these highly dynamic changes we expect to occur intracellularly to keep our cells that then make up our organs and tissues functioning optimally. 

Markers for healthy levels of autophagy in humans may be appreciated by the absence of chronic disease and autoimmunity, slower rates of external signs of aging such as tight skin, glowing clear complexion free of sagging and wrinkles, and abundant energy.

Why should we all be interested in the capacity of our body to up-regulate autophagy?

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So now that you are pumped to increase your body’s ability to upregulate autophagy consider these

top 9 ways to speed up autophagy

Fasted exercise [Pubmed ID: 23964069]

This could be just a morning stroll, or something more intense such as a run or resistance exercise session, this further depletes glycogen stores boosting ketosis and stimulating catabolism that supports autophagy. Note if your goals also include building muscle you may not want to do your resistance exercise fasted.

Eat keto or low carb /high fat

Nutritional ketosis occurs when blood glucose is not elevated from dietary intake of carbohydrates by eating a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. This can also be achieved by timing carbohydrates with physical activity, this is known as a type of carbohydrate cycling. To further appreciate the degree of autophagy one’s body is experiencing testing blood glucose and ketones can be helpful to then calculate GKI (aka glucose ketone index).  A result under 9 is thought to correlate w/ an increased rate of autophagy. 

Heat stress (as in using a sauna) and cold therapy (like a cold plunge pool, icy shower or cryotherapy)

These are hormetic stressors to the body which means that when a small stressor is applied to the body it can result in processes that make it stronger.

With heat stress the body creates heat shock proteins, which fight free radicals, boost production of human growth hormone, promote repair of damaged proteins, these upregulated processes correlate to an increase in autophagy.

Cold shock proteins maintain stem cells, repair damaged proteins, promote resolution of inflammation, stabilize tumor factors as well as fight neurodegeneration. Cold exposure activate brown fat which boosts metabolism and mitochondrial function.

Autophagy is stimulated indirectly by cold exposure through stress granule activation, when the pathways for upregulating autophagy and resisting stress are functioning well, meaning processes such as detox are working well, the person is metabolically flexible, adrenally healthy.

If considering adding heat or cold therapy to your self care routine, please do so with the assistance of a trained professional, go slowly and monitor yourself for tolerance and improvements closely.

Calorie restriction mimetics autophagy boosting foods.

This includes turmeric, berberine, eceg in green tea, coffee, hot peppers, apple cider vinegar, medicinal mushrooms, elderberries and blueberries. Consuming these foods/herbs may support autophagy. 

Drink hot tea.

Earl grey, green tea, matcha personally as these may potentially increase autophagy.

An added benefit to matcha is the high concentration of l-theanine it contains that helps support the adrenals, which may in turn also support elongating a fast.  

High intensity interval training, HIIT exercise

This does not need to be a big time commitment.

Study suggest as little as 7 minutes of intervals can provide benefits of 30 minutes of continuous moderate physical activity.

You could choose from mountain climbers, jumping jacks, lunges, squat-jumps, and burpees. Choose a movement, time yourself for 10 seconds up to 60 seconds then take a rest until you’ve caught your breath.

The intensity should be high enough that you do not want to talk as it would be too laborious to do so. Note this type of exercise is not advised for those with significant fatigue.

Resistance train to build more muscle

Autophagy is induced by resistance training, as it is measured by its correlate LC3-II in the 48 hours following resistance training in untrained young males PMID: 29608242 

In the elderly, 8 weeks of resistance training resulted in an upregulation of autophagy and a decrease in markers of intracellular inflammation and programmed cell death of the peripheral blood mononuclear cells. PMID: 28160545

Get 7.5 hours of good quality sleep

In mice, interruption in sleep negatively affected the rate of autophagy by reducing autophagy protein transmission. PMID: 27078501 

Fasting, both regular intermittent (<24 hours) or periodic prolonged fasts (>24 hours)

During intermittent fasting, the body up regulates autophagy. This may be beneficial for those with chronic disease, those who exercise intensely or to prevent the development of cancers (studies on this are only on mouse models)

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As always, before starting or stopping any health regimen, always speak to your physician first.

Do you have more questions about autophagy?

Let me know in the comments below👇