We LOVE the topic of fasting- and if you’re wondering what we believe the number one benefit of fasting is, we will say without ANY hesitation- autophagy.
Dr. Ruvini Wijetilaka describes autophagy as "the housekeeping of the cells." Dr. Wijetilaka states “Autophagy is kind of like eating leftovers; without eating the food you’ve already made that’s sitting in your fridge, the fridge will overflow and the food will go bad.” By giving the body a rest from digestion, fasting allows the body to break down, recycle, and remove old proteins (similar to eating the leftovers before the fridge overflows) that build up in our bodies and can have detrimental effects on our health, like creating systemic inflammation, which can negatively impact how we age if left unattended (Lidicker, 2020).
Autophagy literally translates to "self eating," and research tells us that during times of fasting, when there is nothing new being taken in, the body has time to get rid of "cellular junk" and gobble up, Pac-Man style, things like pathogens, toxins, damaged cells, necrotic tissue, old proteins and other cellular waste products so that new, healthy cells can be produced. Because we know that diseases like Alzheimer's and other neurologic based diseases occur when there is a build of harmful debris and proteins, autophagy, a process that clears out the build up of debris, shows to be an integral process in the prevention of these chronic diseases (Bagherniya et al. 2018). Fasting may help decrease overall, systemic inflammation, as well as help to lower the risk for so many chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease, and even cancer (Bagherniya et al. 2018). Autophagy works to encourage overall health, maintain equilibrium in the body, and promotes a life that prevents disease.
How long does it take for your body to ramp up autophagy through fasting? Studies are showing fasting times of 24-48hrs (which can include liquid like herbal teas, water and even some coffees) seem to make the most impact, however, practicing 12 hour overnight fasts has also shown to be impactful in increasing autophagy (Hand, 2020).
Autophagy is a detox process that naturally happens in your body all of the time (Hand, 2020). However, there are lifestyle factors like spacing out meals three to four hours apart with minimal to no snacking in between, as well as taking walks after meals are also ways to boost autophagy.
It is important to understand that not all people can fast the same way, and some should not fast for prolonged periods of time at all. For those individuals who fasting may not be appropriate for, things like adequate sleep, movement they enjoy, as well as infrared saunas can also support and enhance the process of autophagy. As always, check with your primary care medical provider if you are considering intermittent or prolonged fasting to see if it is suitable for you.
Bagherniya M, Butler AE, Barreto GE, Sahebkar A. The effect of fasting or calorie restriction on autophagy induction: A review of the literature. Ageing Res Rev. 2018;47:183-197. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2018.08.004
Hand, J. (2020, March 13). What Is Autophagy? How to Increase Autophagy and How It Works. Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://www.bulletproof.com/diet/intermittent-fasting/autophagy-for-longevity-detoxification/
Lidicker, G. (2020, August 12). Autophagy: The Cellular Process That's Key to Healthy Aging. Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://www.parsleyhealth.com/blog/what-is-autophagy/