What is Autophagy? - Autophagy Explained

What is Autophagy?

Have you ever thought what would happen if you never took out the garbage? Rubbish would begin to pile up, decompose and generally get in the way of how things ran and looked in your home.

This is exactly what happens inside our bodies if we can no longer perform a vital function called autophagy (pronounced 'aw-TAW-fuh-gee').

Autophagy is our body's internal clear-up and spruce-up system: it bags and sorts parts of our cells into 'Rubbish' and 'Recycling.' 

Old proteins and organelles that no longer work are bagged up to be burned as energy for our bodies. Other parts that can be salvaged are efficiently put into a recyling bin to be turned into spanking new cells. 

In short, autophagy clears out damaged cells and regenerates new ones. 

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, a leading Oxford scientist describes it as follows:

“I often call autophagy the recycling van that delivers the rubbish to the recycling centre. It is very important to degrade toxic waste for the survival of the cell, and a cell without autophagy cannot survive. But it has also been shown that it is important in disease development, such as in Parkinson’s disease, which is characterised by the accumulation of protein aggregates in neuronal cells. Furthermore, autophagy levels fall in the ageing process. The characteristics of old age, such as wrinkles or hearing loss are actually due to falling autophagy levels and the accumulation of toxic wastes in the cells.”


autophagy process

 In 2016, Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his groundbreaking scientific discovery on the mechanism of action of autophagy. He was able to demonstrate that this process of cellular recycling and renewal plays a key role in human health and preventing the diseases of aging, such as heart disease, Alzheimer's and poor immunity. 

Autophagy Benefits 

Autophagy is fundamental to the proper functioning of our cells across our lifetimes. Without it, proteins, organelles and other cellular matter build up and begin to cause the cells to malfunction or even die. 

Studies show that autophagy benefits:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cognition and memory
  • Immune function
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Lung health in those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Lifespan

How to Induce Autophagy Without Fasting

Both fasting and intermittent fasting can stimulate autophagy. While some benefits will be experienced after fasting for 18-20 hours, which you could achieve with a fast of 18 hours and an eating window of 4, physiologists agree that the most profound benefits happen between the 48-72 hour mark. 

how to induce autophagy without fasting


If 48-72 hours without food sounds too painful, here are a few other ways to induce autophagy.

1: Eat a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet

Like intermittent fasting, eating a diet that is rich in unsaturated fats and lower in carbohydrates (particularly refined ones) shifts your body from using glucose to ketones, which could increase autophagy in itself [2].

2: Exercise more intensely

Two studies suggest that exercise induces autophagy and another study found that both steady state and high intensity exercise could do this [3][4]. However, another study concluded that intensity of exercise could be the biggest determinant of the extent to which autophagy is induced [5].

3: Get deeper, more restorative sleep

One study on rodents suggests that autophagy follows our natural circadian rhythms and that interruptions to sleep could disrupt the process of autophagy [6].

Autophagy Summary

Autophagy is essential to optimal cellular function. Without it, our cells malfunction or die and we become susceptible to the diseases of ageing, including heart disease, poor immunity and Alzheimer's, among others. It's the not just the key to a longer life, but to a healthier one.

Those of us who live until age 65 will likely have another 17 years of life, if not more as science continues to push the envelope on lifespan. But a longer life does not necessarily mean a happy one if it is marked by illness and poor health.

But we know it doesn't have to be that way. Using tricks like autophagy we can tap into the body's own unique ability to repair and renew itself and enjoy vitality in what we like to think of as the new prime of life.  

If you lead a hectic life and find it hard to implement some of the diet and exercise strategies above, Primeadine could be the solution you need.


[1] Short-Term Fasting Induces Profound Neuronal Autophagy: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/

[2] Emerging Role of Mammalian Autophagy in Ketogenesis to Overcome Starvation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27050461

[3] Exercise and Exercise Training-Induce Increase in Autophagy Markers in Human Skeletal Muscle: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5889490/

[4] Exercise Induces Autophagy In Peripheral Tissues and In The Brain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3463459/

[5] Exercise-Induced BCL2-Regulated Autophagy Is Required For Muscle Glucose Homeostasis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22258505

[6] Circadian Rhythm of Autophagy Proteins in Hippocampus Is Blunted By Sleep Fragmentation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27078501