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Updated: May 18, 2023

Autophagy: The Cellular Clean-up Process + Sample Fasting Meal Plan

Autophagy is a cellular process that allows the body to recycle its own damaged and dysfunctional components. It comes from the Greek words "auto" meaning "self" and "phagy" meaning "to eat". Basically, autophagy is a cleaning-up process that occurs at the cellular level in our body.

Cells constantly generate new components while breaking down the old ones. Autophagy is one of the natural ways that our body removes the old, damaged or dysfunctional cellular components, like broken proteins or organelles, and replaces them with new healthy ones. This process helps our body to regenerate itself, maintain healthy tissues, and prevent the accumulation of harmful substances.

What triggers autophagy?

Autophagy can be triggered by various stimuli, such as exercise, nutrient deprivation, stress, or infection. One of the most studied ways to induce autophagy is through fasting, or more specifically intermittent fasting.

During fasting, the body shifts from using glucose for energy to using stored fat. This switch in the body's energy source decreases insulin secretion and activates various enzymes which trigger the autophagy process. Research shows that fasting for 12-16 hours (usually done overnight) can significantly induce autophagy.

Benefits of Autophagy

Autophagy is a natural and powerful anti-aging and anti-inflammatory mechanism. It helps to prevent or reduce the risk of various age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The benefits of autophagy are not only limited to disease prevention but also to improving overall health and longevity. Autophagy helps to:

  • Regenerate tissues and cells

  • Clear out harmful or dysfunctional proteins

  • Boost immune system function

  • Decrease inflammation

  • Improve metabolism

  • Enhance cognitive function and memory

  • Promote healthy aging

  • How to achieve Autophagy with Intermittent Fasting?

If you want to trigger the autophagy process, one of the most effective ways is through intermittent fasting. You can try the following methods:

Time-restricted eating: This is the most popular form of intermittent fasting, where you limit eating to a specific time window of 8-10 hours per day and fast for the remaining hours. For example, you can eat your first meal at noon and finish your last meal by 8 pm, and then fast until noon the next day.

Alternate-day fasting: You fast every other day and eat normally on non-fasting days. For example, you can eat only 500 calories on a fasting day and eat normally on the alternate day.

Extended fasting: This involves fasting for 24-72 hours, which should only be done under supervision by a healthcare provider.

Meal Plan for Intermittent Fasting

It is essential to choose nutrient-dense foods during intermittent fasting to ensure that your body is getting enough vitamins, minerals, and protein to support the autophagy process.

Here is a sample meal plan for a 16-hour fast:

12 pm: Lunch

  • Leafy green salad with chicken breast or tempeh

  • Olive oil or avocado dressing

  • Side of roasted vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)

3 pm: Snack

  • Handful of almonds or walnuts

  • Baby carrots with hummus or guacamole

6 pm: Dinner

  • Grilled salmon or tofu with broccoli

  • Cauliflower rice or a baked sweet potato

8 pm: Dessert

  • Sliced apple or berries with almond butter

Best Practices for Autophagy and Intermittent Fasting

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated

  • Avoid sugary drinks or snacks during your eating window

  • Choose nutrient-dense foods that will support autophagy

  • Get enough sleep to support the cellular clean-up process

  • Ease into fasting by increasing fasting hours gradually

  • Listen to your body and stop fasting if you feel unwell

  • Consult with a healthcare professional if you have any medical conditions

Autophagy is a natural mechanism that our body uses to regenerate and maintain healthy cells and tissues. Intermittent fasting is a powerful way to trigger autophagy and reap its benefits. By following simple dietary guidelines and best practices, you can improve your overall health and longevity. Start slowly with intermittent fasting, and always listen to what your body needs.

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Cited Material:

Furuta et al. "Induction of Autophagy by Higher-Dose Vitamin D3 Inhibition of Claudin-2 Expression and Enhancement of Beclin-1 Expression in Colon Cancer Cells." Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, vol. 62, no. 5, 2016, pp. 335–342, doi:10.3177/jnsv.62.335.

Hatori, Megumi et al. "Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet." Cell Metabolism vol. 15,6 (2012):

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