What exactly is autophagy?

The word autophagy means “self-eating” (auto: self, phagy: to eat). A more technical definition would be “the segregation and disposal of damaged organelles within a cell.” The purpose of autophagy is for the body to rid itself of senescent (old) cells and damaged cells. Think of it as a spring cleaning of waste and toxic buildup in your body, a re-set for your whole system. Initiate autophagy, fasting for gut health into your routine for optimal health.

How does fasting enable autophagy?

Fasting is just one-way autophagy is stimulated, but there are other research-based ways, including a ketogenic diet, moderate exercise, and “autophagy” foods. These foods include epigallocatechin gallate EGCG containing green and black teas, berberine (supplement form), and bergamot (tea or supplement). When fasting, cells use autophagy to survive by digesting their components. Old, damaged, or weak cell parts are the first to go.

Autophagy and the gut:

During fasting, the body uses fat stores for energy since no carbohydrates are consumed. In one study conducted by the Buchinger Clinic, findings show that fasting resulted in a decrease in gut bacteria fed by carbohydrates and an increase in bacteria fed from sources within the body. Reduced beneficial bacterial was later repopulated and returned to their original numbers three months after fasting, reassuring doubts that fasting may permanently affect these friendly bugs. Also, the increase occurred in bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s), which promote the integrity of the gut lining. When bacteria were observed three months after the fast, these numbers were higher than before fasting. It is essential to note the importance of good nutrition during regeneration after eating is resumed. Scientific research aside, it just makes sense to give the gut rest if we want it to heal.

When does autophagy begin during fasting?

Although there is no definitive time frame, it is suggested that autophagy starts within 16-24 hours after fasting, and different results will be achieved depending on the length of the fast. For this reason, extended fasts (36 hours or more) can be attempted once confidence is built with shorter fasts.

Types of fasting:

There are several methods for shorter fasts, including intermittent, time-restricted eating, and one meal a day (OMAD). An example of intermittent fasting would be eating an early dinner and waiting until late morning the next day to eat. If dinner is at 5 o’clock and the next meal is at 11 o’clock the following day, an 18 hour fast has been achieved. Time-restricted eating is designating time to take food in 24 hours. For example, noon till 5 p.m. This is not a time for “calorie restriction,” plenty of nutritious food can be enjoyed. This would achieve a 19-hour fast. OMAD is also a valuable strategy for fasting. Choose your time and eat one meal while eating plenty of nutritious, satisfying food. This achieves a 23-hour fast. Combine these with moderate exercise or ketogenic eating, and autophagy will likely increase. An extended fast is anything 36 hours or more.

*Always consult with your health care provider to see if fasting is proper for you.