What is autophagy and how could it benefit your health?

What is autophagy and how could it benefit your health?


High intensity exercise could encourage the body process of autophagy.

The health and wellness industry has a new “latest fashion”: autophagy, a regenerative process of our body, scientifically recognized, that some beauty gurus now link with weight loss, longevity and a younger appearance .

Autophagy is a natural mechanism of regeneration that occurs in our body at the cellular level . It reduces the probability of contracting certain diseases and prolongs life expectancy.

In 2016 the Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize for his research on the mechanisms of autophagy, a process still little studied.

Their progress contributed to a greater understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or dementia.

What is the function of autophagy?

The process of autophagy was first identified in 1960 , but its fundamental importance was only recognized after Ohsumi’s research work during the 1990s.

The word, derived from the Greek, refers to the idea of “eating oneself”, which would be the mechanism by which the cells of our body degrade and recycle their own components.

Yoshinori Ohsumi, Japanese scientist winner of the Nobel Prize in 2016
Copyright of the REUTERS image
Image caption Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize in 2016 for his research on autophagy.

That process provides our body with fuel to generate energy and gives it the “basic building blocks” needed for cell renewal.

Thus, the cells use autophagy to get rid of damaged proteins and organelles or organelles, which are the different structures contained in the cytoplasm of a cell.

And they do it by means of a sort of recycling sacks called lysosomes .

For example, after an infection through the process of autophagy we can destroy viruses and bacteria.

Since recognition of Ohsumi’s research , both the pharmaceutical industry and the academic world have embarked on a drug searchthat can stimulate that natural process of regeneration.

Now, experts and pseudoexperts on diet and well-being have also climbed the autophagy train, saying that the process can be induced naturally through fasting, high-intensity exercise and restriction of carbohydrates.

Benefits observed in mice

“Certainly, the experience from experiments with mice suggests that it could be like that, ” Dr. David Rubinsztein, professor of molecular neurogenetics at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Dementia Research Institute of the United Kingdom, told the BBC. .

“There are studies in which they have lit the process using genetic tools, or drugs or fasting, and in those cases the animals tend to live longer and be, in general terms, more fit,” he said.

A clock on a plate
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption In mice, experts have been able to observe the effects of fasting on the brain in just 24 hours.

However, the expert said, it is still unknown how this could be transferred to the human being.

“For example, in mice, you see the effects of fasting on the brain in 24 hours, and in some parts of your body, like in the liver, much faster, but even when we know that fasting is beneficial, we do not know how much exactly would humans need to fast to see those benefits, “said Rubinsztein.

Still, fasting does stimulate autophagy, he added, and the benefits of that natural process of regeneration have been demonstrated by other studies.

“It also seems to be beneficial in the context of controlling an infection and protecting against excessive inflammation.”

Now, several new books on lifestyle say that the process can be “activated” or “turned on” by making changes in our diet and in our daily habits, for example fasting , something that has already become popular with certain diets such as the Diet Quick or the 5: 2 diet.

“It does not hurt”

One of those new books is the titled Glow 15 (which means Brilla 15), by Naomi Whittel, a self-described “welfare explorer”.

She proposes a 15-day program that includes fasting for 16 hours three times a week, reduction of protein intake one day, eating carbohydrates at the end of the day and doing periods of high intensity exercise .

Yeast cells.
Copyright of the SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY image
Image caption Ohsumi began studying autophagy with yeast cells.

According to Whittel, she observed several benefits after testing her program with volunteers at Jacksonville University in Florida.

“Some people lost weight, up to 3.1 kg in 15 days, others noticed a reduction in their expression lines, or saw changes in their blood pressure and improvements in their lean muscle mass,” he said.

According to Dr. Rubinsztein, none of those lifestyle recommendations will hurt you.

“And if you have unhealthy lifestyles, if you’re always eating between meals or eating junk food, then you will not have the opportunity to do this during a fast,” he added.

Protection against degenerative diseases

Brain with Alzheimer's disease, on the left, compared to a healthy brain, on the right.
Copyright of the image SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption Brain with Alzheimer’s disease, on the left, compared to a healthy brain, on the right. Experts believe that the accumulation of proteins marks the pathological onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Clearly, fasting too much is not a good idea and anyone who wants to make big changes in their diet or lifestyle should consult them first with their doctor.

Dr. Rubinsztein is optimistic about the future of autophagy to treat diseases.

His laboratory discovered that proteins form “tangles” in the nerve cells of people who have diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

“We discovered that if you activate autophagy the body can quickly get rid of these proteins and that protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington, Parkinson’s and different forms of dementia,” said the specialist.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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