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Everything you need to know about Autophagy

Overview

Autophagy is derived from the Greek words ‘auto’, which means ‘self’, and ‘phagy’ which means ‘eating’. Autophagy is a natural physiological process in our body that deals with cell elimination. This process is also known as ‘self-devouring. 

Autophagy helps in maintaining homeostasis by degrading proteins and repurposing dead cell organelles to create new cells. Autophagy is accelerated and enhanced in response to cellular stress. When nutrients are depleted, cellular stress occurs. As a result, autophagy may provide an alternative source of intracellular building blocks and substrates that can be used to generate energy and allow cells to survive.

What is autophagy?

Autophagy is a cytoplasmic breakdown pathway that transports cytoplasmic components to lysosome. Autophagy has a variety of pathological and physiological functions, some of which are complex. The phases of autophagy include sequestration, transport to lysosomes, degradation, and use of degradation products, and each one has a particular role.

What are the types of autophagy?

There are four forms of autophagy:

  1. Macro autophagy – The autolysosome is a double membrane-bound vesicle that unites with the lysosome. The cytoplasmic cargo is delivered to the lysosome using this membrane. Double-membraned structures (autophagosomes) enclose cellular material and then fuse with lysosomes under this process.
  2. Micro autophagy – The cytoplasmic components are immediately absorbed by the lysosome via invagination of the lysosomal membrane in this technique. Therefore, in this case, the material to be digested fuses directly with the lysosome. 
  3. Chaperone-mediated autophagy – The targeted proteins form a compound with chaperone proteins and subsequently cross the lysosomal membrane. This complex is then noted by the lysosomal membrane receptor lysosomal-associated membrane protein 2A, causing it to unfold and degrade.
  4. Selective autophagy – Autophagy may be used for select organelles. Mitophagy, for example, is the destruction of mitochondria by autophagy. This function is critical for maintaining the organelle’s integrity.

When and how does an autophagy process happen?

The most common time for autophagy to happen is while sleeping – the period when everyone fasts. 

However, having a heavy dinner and sleeping right away will prevent autophagy from occurring. In fact, this causes more debris to accumulate in the cells rather than the clearing of  “trash” by recycling through autophagy. Autophagy can also be induced by medications. 

There are times when autophagy can kill the cells in the form of programmed cell death (PCD). This is termed autophagic cell death also known as apoptosis. 

Autophagy tries to maintain a balance between the point of manufacture of cellular components and the point of breakdown of damaged cells or organelles. 

Why is autophagy important?

Damaged portions in the body must be removed for the cells to remain healthy and functional. When waste accumulates in a cell, it can permanently alter the DNA, making it difficult for the cell to repair itself and regenerate the structures it requires to survive and prosper. While some cells only live for a few days in your body, others live for a lifetime.

Neurons and cardiomyocytes are two types of cells that don’t change over very often and stay with us for decades, so it’s critical that they stay healthy. 

Autophagy has the ability to both exacerbate or alleviate harm, referred to as a “double-edged sword”. Fasting leads to the development of gallstones that also causes the gallbladder to harden like a stone. Though fasting is recommended for most people, obese, pregnant, small children, and elderly are not advised to fast. However, if they do wish to fast; it is recommended to get advice from a doctor at Apollo first.

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How long do you need to fast for autophagy?

Depending on an individual’s metabolism, starting the autophagy process in humans may require two to four days of fasting. When glucose and insulin levels decrease, the autophagy process gains momentum. Animal studies show that after 24 hours of fasting, there are indications of autophagy, which peaks at roughly 48 hours.

According to a study in humans, autophagy has been observed after 24 hours in neutrophils (the most common type of immune cells in the blood). However, there are no definitive human studies that have determined an optimal fasting duration for achieving autophagy. 

How do you increase autophagy?

According to research, autophagy may rise as a result of actions that stress the cells, such as:

  1. Fasting for two to three days causes nutritional deficiency
  2. Autophagy is triggered by physical activity, which can cause cell damage
  3. The ketogenic diet, for example, deprives the body of carbs

What are the benefits of autophagy?

The main benefit of autophagy is promoting anti-aging activities within the human body.

Some of the other benefits of autophagy at a cellular level are:

  1. Removal of toxic proteins from the cells that are responsible for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. The recycling process of residual proteins.
  3. Fixing any issues with energy supply to the cells.
  4. Regeneration and healthy cells are maintained 

What conditions does autophagy aid in preventing?

Autophagy prevents persistent tissue damage and cell death (which often contributes to the onset and progression of cancer) as a cytoprotective survival process. As a result, restoring or stimulating autophagy might help in preventing cancer.

A note from Apollo hospitals/Apollo groups

Autophagy has been observed to play an important role in healing and protecting the body from diseases, such as cancer and neurogenerative diseases. If you are interested to know more or about how to stimulate autophagy in the body, it is recommended to consult your Apollo doctor, who will suggest a diet plan and exercise schedule to achieve this safely.  

Frequently asked questions

1)Is it possible to measure autophagy at home?

While you can’t accurately measure the rate of your autophagy process, you can tell if your body has activated the autophagy process by checking for the following indicators: 

  • Low blood glucose
  • Lessor no appetite
  • Weight loss and
  • Elevated ketones

2)How effective is autophagy in tightening loose skin?

Autophagy affects skin aging directly, thus activating it can help tighten your skin and minimize the quantity of loose skin on your body. 

3)What is OMAD autophagy?

OMAD refers to ‘One Meal A Day’, and as the name suggests, this practice involves eating only one meal a day. OMAD has become a trend amongst people who are looking to lose weight.

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