Autophagy and Fasting: Unleash the Power for Optimal Health

Autophagy is our body’s rejuvenation process that can be turned on by fasting. Discover its benefits and how to induce autophagy naturally.

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Autophagy is our body’s natural recycling process, a system our bodies have used for centuries to survive. It involves the breakdown of old, damaged cells and renews them into healthier versions of themselves.

Fortunately, there are ways to induce autophagy more regularly to support healthy aging and longevity.[1] One of the best ways is through fasting. However, if fasting is not for you, there are other natural ways to stimulate autophagy, such as taking autophagy supplements.

Let’s dig into autophagy fasting benefits, how to induce autophagy by fasting, and alternatives to fasting if it’s not for you.

Autophagy

What Is Autophagy?

In the simplest of terms, autophagy is our body’s way of renewing itself. Over time, our cells grow old and become more susceptible to damage, which leads to oxidative stress in the body.

This occurs when the body is exposed to harmful substances in the environment called free radicals, which can increase the risk of disease and accelerate aging.

Autophagy’s sole purpose in life is to reverse this negative process as much as possible. It is your friend, and is a protective mechanism to preserve the health of your cells and your entire body.

During autophagy, cells identified as being damaged are broken down, destroyed, and parts of them are reused to generate healthy, more high-functioning cells.

This process needs to occur frequently and long enough to achieve its intended benefits. This is where the link between autophagy and fasting comes in to provide some extra support.

Mitophagy

What is Mitophagy?

Mitophagy is a specific type of autophagy. In this pathway, the cellular energy producers, known as the mitochondria, are specifically targeted for removal and renewal. This quality control mechanism helps to keep our mitochondria healthy and working properly.

Unfortunately, as we age, autophagy and mitophagy rates begin to decline, leading to more accumulation of damaged cellular parts.

Benefits

Autophagy Fasting Benefits

There are multiple autophagy benefits to health, and fasting is one way to help you achieve these benefits more often.[2] This is the case with both intermittent fasting and prolonged fasting methods.

Denying your cells of nutrients when fasting gives your body (and liver) a break from digestion and allows it to focus on cell renewal.

It then begins to locate the damaged cells that need to go, recreating them to become stronger.[3]

Here are a few possible autophagy benefits associated with fasting:[4]

  • Decreases oxidative stress that leads to early aging.
  • Destroys damaged cells that can cause disease.
  • Bolsters the removal of toxins from the body.
  • Improves hormonal balance.
  • Decreases inflammation.
  • Boosts skin health by increasing collagen production.
  • Supports proper nerve communication and function, helping your body work more efficiently.
  • Promotes the conversion of your food and nutrients into needed energy.

When it comes to your own autophagy fasting timeline and method, it’s important to know yourself and weigh out the pros and cons of starting an autophagy diet plan like fasting.

How to Induce Autophagy By Fasting

Here are a few tips and best practices if you want to start fasting to stimulate autophagy.

Fast for at least 24 hours - While the exact fasting schedule to stimulate autophagy is not yet set in stone, your body needs some time to prepare for autophagy. While some experts say it’s possible to induce autophagy after fasting for 14–18 hours, most research points to at least 24 hours to begin to see a notifiable autophagy effect. For this reason, at least a 24-hour fast with is generally recommended to stimulate autophagy.[5]

Consider extended fasting - It’s possible that more extended fasts of at least 24–48 hours may lead to even bigger autophagic activity. However, this is not easy or necessarily safe for many people to follow.[6] Extended fasting can be especially dangerous for those who take insulin or other medications to manage blood sugar, as this can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Add certain foods to speed up the process - There are a few foods you can try to help support the autophagy process during your eating windows. This includes coffee, green tea, turmeric, and polyphenols called ellagitannins and ellagic acid that promote health.[7]

These polyphenols break down into Urolithin A, the primary compound in Mitopure® that promotes mitophagy.

Remember, above all else, to always listen to your body while fasting. If you feel tired, lightheaded, weak, or nauseous - chances are fasting is not for you. Always speak with your doctor before starting to determine the best autophagy fasting timeline for you.

Other Ways To Induce Autophagy

If fasting is not your thing, not to worry, there are other effective (and safe!) ways to induce autophagy that don’t involve drastically changing your diet or eating schedule.

Measuring tape

Calorie Restriction

A continuous calorie restriction can provide the same autophagy fasting benefits by “starving” your cells of calories on a more regular basis. You don’t need to go super low on calories to achieve autophagy - just reducing by 10-40% of your maintenance calorie needs can be effective.[8]

To achieve this safely and effectively through this method, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian for guidance.

Person riding a bike

Exercise

If you need a little extra push to exercise more, let the healthy-aging benefits of autophagy get you going on those unmotivated days. Physical activity has been shown to induce autophagy in muscles, especially after higher intensity exercise like interval training or running.[9]

However, even more prolonged, moderate-intensity exercise like walking produces these same autophagy benefits - you may just have to do it for longer.

Mitopure Powder

Autophagy Supplements

Adding a supplement that stimulates mitophagy naturally can further support cellular renewal and healthy aging. Urolithin A (UA) is a unique compound seen to do just this. It is created by the gut microbiome as a byproduct of pomegranate polyphenols; however, ⅔ of adults do not have the gut bacteria needed to make UA successfully.

Taking UA as an autophagy supplement supplies you with the direct dose needed to yield the benefits. Mitopure® is a pure form of Urolithin A that specifically targets mitophagy, which is the renewal in the mitochondria of our cells (our energy center).

This is especially important in order for our bodies to generate energy efficiently and to keep our cells young.

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Key Takeaways

Autophagy is your body’s way of self-preserving to delay the aging process, optimize health, and protect you from disease. You hold the tools to induce it more often through your daily habits like fasting, calorie restriction, exercise, and autophagy supplements.

If you don’t want to change the way you eat, or you just want a convenient way to further boost your autophagy capabilities, adding a supplement like Mitopure® is an easy way to induce mitophagy in a more sustainable way.

Authors

Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

Writter

Dietitian-Nutritionist, and Health Content Writer

Jen Scheinman, MS, RDN, CDN

Reviewed by

Senior Manager of Nutrition Affairs

References

  1. Nakamura S, Yoshimori T. Autophagy and Longevity. Mol Cells. 2018 Jan 31;41(1):65-72. doi: 10.14348/molcells.2018.2333. Epub 2018 Jan 23. PMID: 29370695; PMCID: PMC5792715.

  2. Condello M, Pellegrini E, Caraglia M, Meschini S. Targeting Autophagy to Overcome Human Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Feb 8;20(3):725. doi: 10.3390/ijms20030725. PMID: 30744021; PMCID: PMC6387456.

  3. 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 Nov;47:183-197. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2018.08.004. Epub 2018 Aug 30. PMID: 30172870.

  4. Martinez-Lopez N, Tarabra E, Toledo M, Garcia-Macia M, Sahu S, Coletto L, Batista-Gonzalez A, Barzilai N, Pessin JE, Schwartz GJ, Kersten S, Singh R. System-wide Benefits of Intermeal Fasting by Autophagy. Cell Metab. 2017 Dec 5;26(6):856-871.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.09.020. Epub 2017 Oct 26. PMID: 29107505; PMCID: PMC5718973.

  5. Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010 Aug;6(6):702-10. doi: 10.4161/auto.6.6.12376. Epub 2010 Aug 14. PMID: 20534972; PMCID: PMC3106288.

  6. Autophagy: Definition, Process, Fasting, & Signs. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 3/31/2023. Last updated 8/23/2022.https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24058-autophagy#:~:text=How%20long%20do%20you%20have,to%2048%20hours%20of%20fasting

  7. Pallauf K, Rimbach G. Autophagy, polyphenols and healthy ageing. Ageing Research Reviews. 2013;12(1):237-252. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2012.03.008

  8. Chung KW, Chung HY. The Effects of Calorie Restriction on Autophagy: Role on Aging Intervention. Nutrients. 2019 Dec 2;11(12):2923. doi: 10.3390/nu11122923. PMID: 31810345; PMCID: PMC6950580.

  9. Halling JF, Pilegaard H. Autophagy-Dependent Beneficial Effects of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2017 Aug 1;7(8):a029777. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029777. PMID: 28270532; PMCID: PMC5538402.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. References: *Nutrition studies: 500mg Mitopure® have been shown to (1) induce gene expression related to mitochondria function and metabolism and (2) increase the strength of the hamstring leg muscle in measures of knee extension and flexion in overweight 40-65 year olds. Data from two randomized double-blind placebo-controlled human clinical trials. **Nutrition NOURISH Study: 500mg Mitopure® have been shown to deliver at least 6 times higher Urolithin A plasma levels over 24 hours (area under the curve) than 8 ounces (240ml) of pomegranate juice in a randomized human clinical trial.

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