Tips for Stimulating Autophagy
If you’ve read the blog post The Protective Effects of Autophagy you may be keen to find out how to stimulate this health enhancing mechanism. Autophagy is at the root of many longevity inducing techniques. Caloric restriction, Sirtuin 1 activation, inhibition of insulin/insulin growth factor signaling, and the administration of rapamycin, resveratrol, and spermidine all rely on autophagy taking place (1).
Here are some ways to stimulate autophagy:
Fasting – stimulates autophagy but may be impractical for most people.
Fasting mimicking diet – consuming 800-1000 calories per day for 5 days stimulates autophagy. This can be done once a month or once a season.
Intermittent Fasting – humans evolved in environments where food was sometimes scarce. This led to the development of numerous adaptations so they could function in a food-deprived state. Intermittent fasting (IF) involves going for extended periods of time with little or no energy intake, with intervening periods of normal food intake, on a recurring basis.
IF improves health and counteracts disease processes in various ways including DNA repair and by upregulating autophagy (2). It has been shown to improve outcomes in a wide range of age-related disorders including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke in lab animals. Intermittent fasting may involve:
- 60% energy restriction on 2 days per week
- 60% energy restriction every other day
- 5 day diet providing 750-1100kcal per day
- Daily intermittent fasting – this involves restricting your eating window. This can be done by gradually extending the overnight fast. If you currently have 12 hours where you don’t eat overnight, increase this to 13 hours. Some people extend this to 16 hours, so all meals are eaten within an 8 hour window eg: between 10am and 6pm.
Calorie Restriction – the life span of various organisms such as mice, flies, and nematodes, can be extended by caloric restriction which activates autopaghy (3). Long term calorie restriction may cause problems (see blog post Possible Problems with Fasting and Autophagy for more information).
Ketogenic diet – this is a high fat, low carb and moderate protein diet. It lowers blood sugar and insulin and adapts the body to burning dietary fat and body fat for fuel. Instead of burning glucose for energy, which leads to blood sugar fluctuations and higher insulin levels, the body burns ketones for energy. Ketones are by-products of fatty acids that can be used as cellular energy and to fuel the brain.
Green Tea – catechins in green tea stimulate metabolism and help to regulate ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
Black coffee – may induce autophagy, though a significant proportion of people do not do well on caffeine.
Polyphenols – from herbs, fruit and vegetables, polyphenols suppress the mTOR pathway and activate the AMPk pathway to induce autophagy. Polyphenol rich foods include: red onions, elderberries, oregano, sage, rosemary, bergamot, green tea, dark chocolate, ginger, turmeric, blueberries, grapes, red wine and citrus peel.
Apple Cider Vinegar – contains acetic acid which may boost metabolism and fat burning and reduce appetite. Try diluting 1-2 tbsp of ACV in water and drinking it before meals or during the fasting window.
Ginger and Turmeric – may enhance autophagy, decrease inflammation, and lower pain.
Resveratrol – enhances autophagy by inhibiting mTOR and stimulating Sirtuin-1. Sirtuin-1 is required for the autophagic response to nutrient deprivation (4). Resveratrol is found in the skins of grapes and berries which is why red wine may be beneficial to health. It is also found in peanuts.
Bergamot – an ingredient of Earl Grey tea and traditional colognes, bergamot is rich in flavonoids that offer fantastic benefits for heart health, and cholesterol and may enhance autophagy.
Oregano, Sage, and Rosemary – contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that may enhance autophagy.
Quercetin – may enhance autophagy, fight inflammation, improve immunity, and fight free radical damage. Found in red onions, leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, and berries.
Temporary protein restriction – like calorie restriction, protein restriction may also activate autophagy. Although it’s important to include protein in your eating window – it is essential for strong muscles and bones and brain and heart health, too much protein increases insulin, blocks ketone production, and activates the mTOR pathway.
Hydration – whether fasting or feasting hydration is important. The body loses water during a fast as glycogen from the muscles and liver is used up. If you get dehydrated during your fasting window, you are more likely to feel tired, light-headed and achy. Add a pinch of salt or some lemon or lime juice to your water to replace electrolytes.
Avoid Snacking – snacking will raise blood glucose and trigger the release of insulin.
Lifestyle Tips to Enhance Autophagy
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Resistance Training – can stimulate autophagy, fat burning and human growth hormone which stimulates muscle repair. It also improves mood and mental focus. It is not advisable to do strenuous exercise while fasting. Some gentle yoga, pilates, tai chi or walking are more appropriate.
Sleep – autophagy is partly regulated by the light dark cycle. Deep sleep stimulates the mechanisms of autophagy.
Heat and Cold – short periods of intense cold or heat can promote autophagy. Rapid temperature changes stimulate the body to adapt and get back into homeostasis.
The Importance of Feasting
Fasting is a time for cleansing and healing, whereas feasting is a chance to nourish the body with nutrient dense foods needed for growth, repair, and reproduction. Intermittent fasting stimulates autophagy but prolonged calorie restriction upsets the thyroid, sex hormone balance and the adrenal glands and leads to muscle wasting. Feasting stimulates the mTOR and insulin pathways which produces energy and stimulates muscle growth.
Combining fasting and feasting can help to regulate cell-growth and cleansing pathways, balance hormones, boost lean body tissue, balance inflammatory pathways and immune activity, and enhance mental health and emotional well-being.
See blog post Possible Problems with Fasting and Autophagy for what to consider before embarking on any kind of fasting.
1. 2011 Sep 2;146(5):682-95. Autophagy and aging. Rubinsztein D et al.
2. Ageing Res Rev. 2017 Oct;39:46-58. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Mattson MP et al.
3. 2010 Jan;6(1):186-8. The life span-prolonging effect of sirtuin-1 is mediated by autophagy. Morselli E et al.
4. Cell Death Dis. 2010;1(1):e10. Caloric restriction and resveratrol promote longevity through the Sirtuin-1-dependent induction of autophagy. Morselli E et al.