Autophagy: Types, Benefits and How to Induce
Scary as it might sound, it is not unusual at all for body cells to become worn out or damaged. The real problem is when such defective cells remain and accumulate in the body. That’s a recipe for health issues, particularly those seen in older people.
Autophagy is a process that helps to nip possible problems in the bud. It assists your body in properly dealing with potentially risky cells. In this article, we discuss all you need to know about it, including anti-aging benefits and how to induce.
What is Autophagy?
Autophagy has its origin in Ancient Greek, although it was only discovered some decades ago. It is from the word “autophagos,” which may be translated as “self-eating” or “self-devouring.”
The term essentially refers to the destruction and consumption of the body’s own cells and tissue. This is a normal physiological process in the human body that helps control damaged cells.
Autophagy is possibly a mean of promoting survival of the human person, according to scientists. It facilitates the orderly destruction of dysfunctional components of body cells and cellular recycling.
The regulated mechanism could be useful for providing an alternate source of building blocks for cell survival. It recycles cellular components or “waste” to make new materials beneficial for repair and regeneration of the cells.
This natural process is believed to have first been observed in the early 1960s by the Canadian-American cell biologist Keith R. Porter, working at the Rockefeller Institute. But the name of the mechanism is credited to Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve, who coined it in 1963.
Types of Autophagy
Scientists often talk about three main forms of autophagy: macroautophagy, microautophagy, and Chaperone-mediated autophagy.
Macroautophagy is the main pathway for dealing with damaged cellular components and toxic proteins. The catabolic process involves the formation of double-membrane-bound vesicles known as autophagosomes, which engulf components for degradation. An autophagosome then moves through cell cytoplasm to fuse with a lysosome and form an autolysosome. It is in this state that damaged cellular components are degraded.
This form takes a more direct approach to eliminating dysfunctional cellular components. The lysosome engulfs cytoplasmic material directly. Microautophagy can happen through cellular protrusion or invagination, inward folding of the lysosomal membrane.
This process involves the use of a chaperone complex, such as the hsc70, for transferring targeted proteins across the lysosomal membrane. Chaperone-mediated autophagy is very specific. A targeted protein needs to have a recognition site for the complex to make binding to the chaperon possible.
The different forms of autophagy are mediated by autophagy-related genes (Atg), along with their associated enzymes. At least, about three dozens of these genes have been identified.
Benefits of Autophagy
Scientists are still studying the benefits a person can get from this natural mechanism. But there is already evidence that it can help fight certain disorders, especially those that come with aging.
Elimination of aging-related dysfunctional components
This benefit is already obvious from what we have discussed so far. Autophagy helps degrade toxic proteins, damaged organelles, and other dysfunctional cellular components. Accumulation of damaged cells in the body is believed to be a contributor to premature aging.
There is a connection between numerous health issues and inflammation. This natural response can be beneficial to health. The problem is when it becomes chronic. It is believed that autophagy can help regulate your inflammatory response. It may improve or reduce this, as necessary.
Nervous system and brain support
Autophagy may help prevent disorders of the brain and the nervous system. It could promote brain and nerve cell growth. It also appears to enhance brain structures and neuroplasticity.
The natural mechanism could prove beneficial for getting rid of damaged proteins, the accumulation of which has been linked to neurological disorders. This means that you may be able to protect yourself against medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease with its aid.
Prevention of osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a condition that is somewhat synonymous with old age. People are more likely to have it as they get older.
It appears autophagy has a link to this most common form of arthritis. This is because the natural process slows as you get older. Researchers have observed a reduction in autophagy-related proteins in articular cartilage as a result of aging.
It probably follows then that autophagy plays a role in the health of joints. This makes it potentially useful for guarding against osteoarthritis.
Autophagy can help your immune system to function better. This has to do with how it helps to get rid of infectious agents in cells. What we are talking about here is also known as xenophagy, degradation of infectious particles.
In the same way, autophagy prevents accumulation of defective mitochondria, it targets intracellular pathogens for degradation. An example of such pathogens is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.
Dysfunctional DNA is bad for cellular homeostasis and contributes to a variety of medical disorders. Researchers noted in a 2017 study review that autophagy may help to modulate DNA repair pathways. The process has been implicated in diverse DNA repair mechanisms.
It follows then that anything that enhances autophagy may promote the health of DNA.
Protection against cancer
It is believed that autophagy could prove helpful in impeding the development of cancer. Evidence from studies suggests that it holds impressive potential for suppressing the growth of tumors. In one study, it was found that over-expression of Beclin1, a process regulating protein, helped to inhibit the growth of tumors.
However, there is a bit of contradiction on the effect that this mechanism has on cancer. Researchers have found that it could also potentially contribute to the development of tumors.
Among other benefits, autophagy promotes cellular turnover and health. This can help to thwart metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes.
It may also interest you to know, somewhat strangely, that the regulated mechanism may also boost muscle growth and performance.
Considering all these benefits, it is obvious that autophagy offers a lot for fighting off the effects of aging. It makes your immune system better able to fight infections and reduces your risk of chronic disorders.
Autophagy and Programmed Cell Death
It is possible for some people to take autophagy as being synonymous with a phenomenon known as programmed cell death (PCD). This is not exactly correct.
PCD, also known as apoptosis or sometimes as “cellular suicide,” refers to a regulated process of cellular self-destruction. It involves the shrinking of cells and their eventual death. It is a normal part of growth and development in humans or organisms.
Autophagy is just a form of PCD. This is why it is often described as non-apoptotic cell death. It doesn’t produce some of the cell changes characteristic of apoptosis.
The main focus of autophagy is the regulation of the degradation and recycling of cellular components. It removes specific organelles (such as defective mitochondria), damaged or unused proteins, and other dysfunctional components.
How Do You Induce Autophagy?
There are two major means of inducing autophagy: nutrient starvation or deprivation and stress. The natural mechanism is actually a means of promoting survival from these.
It is most active in people who are experiencing serious starvation or intense stress. Basically, anything that causes you internal stress without compromising your health can help to promote it.
With that said, we discuss some of the proven ways you can induce autophagy below.
Fasting offers a great way of promoting nutrient deprivation to induce autophagy. Yes, this practice might not sound appealing or fashionable. But the increasingly popular intermittent fasting (IF) is a form that you shouldn’t find hard to do.
It simply entails you eating only within a particular period and then fasting for the rest of the time. Some people describe it as time-restricted eating.
There are diverse forms of intermittent fasting. One is alternate day fasting, which means eating one day and not eating the next.
The most popular IF form is probably the one that has a 16-hour fasting period. This restricts all feeding to a period of eight hours each day.
If that will be too hard, you may just extend your everyday overnight “fast.” Let’s say you normally have your dinner by 8 p.m. and breakfast by 7 a.m. the following day. You may choose to wait until 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. before having the latter.
Many benefits have already been associated with intermittent fasting, on its own. These include muscle growth, fat loss, and anti-aging, just to mention a few.
A good number of IF benefits have a connection to human growth hormone. Fasting has been shown to significantly improve the natural production of this substance, whose levels typically drop as people get older.
Fully known as a ketogenic diet, this method of feeding may help to promote autophagy. You could simply think of this as a diet that has very low carb content. But, beyond that, it is also one rich in healthy fats.
A ketogenic diet works in a somewhat similar fashion as fasting. By reducing your carb intake, it forces your body to use fat for energy. It causes what is known as ketosis to occur. Carb restriction leads to your body increases the production of ketone bodies.
Researchers have found that ketosis can boost autophagy due to starvation-like conditions. This is in an attempt to protect your body against possible issues.
This kind of diet depends on fat as the major source of calories (roughly 75 percent) while 10 percent or less comes from carbs. It entails consuming foods such as grass-fed meat, olive oil, vegetables, avocado, and fermented cheeses.
You may get help in promoting autophagy by being more physically active. An exercise is a form of stress that can possibly induce the mechanism.
Researchers say that autophagy plays a vital role in the maintenance of muscle homeostasis during physical exercise. In other words, it helps to maintain muscle activity when you are getting active.
Exercise has been found to enhance autophagy in different organs that are connected in some way to regulation of metabolism. These include adipose tissue, the liver, and the pancreas.
You don’t necessarily need to engage in something very intense, although such would likely be better. Simple, enjoyable aerobic exercises could do. You can engage in swimming, running or brisk walking for, at least, about 30 minutes every day.
In addition to the foregoing, sleep may also be beneficial. It is thought that autophagy takes place as well while having your shut-eye. This is may well be another good reason to get very restful sleep every night.
Certain foods could also prove beneficial for inducing autophagy. They include green tea, green peas, ginseng, pomegranates, and mushrooms.
Scientists continue to investigate ways in which autophagy can be beneficial to human health. A number of them believe that it offers a great way of slowing aging and preventing age-related disorders.
Most of the approaches that are currently thought to induce it are what we already know to offer health benefits. Autophagy is probably just one of the mechanisms by which they produce these positive effects.
If you intend doing intermittent fasting to induce this natural mechanism, we advise that you try speaking with your doctor. Certain medical conditions, including diabetes and hypoglycemia, require that you tread with caution. It is also not advisable for pregnant and nursing women to fast.
- Autophagy Roles in the Modulation of DNA Repair Pathways
- Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship
- Autophagy and intermittent fasting: the connection for cancer therapy?
- Autophagy in endothelial cells and tumor angiogenesis
- Protein Restriction, Epigenetic Diet, Intermittent Fasting as New Approaches for Preventing Age-associated Diseases
- The role for autophagy in cancer