Seeking a long and youthful life? Then looking after your mitochondria should be a high priority on your to-do list. One of the main factors of ageing is because of the damage that happens inside your mitochondria (mitochondria is the powerhouses inside each and every cell responsible to produce energy). Do you have a desire to lose fat, feel wiped out, exhausted, chronically fatigued, deal with brain fog and have aches and pains? Do you want to feel better? You need cellular healing and enhanced autophagy. There are many things causing damage to mitochondria and that is a whole article and topic on its own. I want to talk mainly about autophagy which will get rid of sluggish mitochondria, defective cells and replace them with new healthy ones.
What is autophagy?
Autophagy is a process where the body gets rid of old and unhealthy cells that are not functioning optimally anymore. It is your body’s own natural detox system where it expels excess cells which can potentially harm your health, which you don’t benefit from anymore and it then allows the creation of new and healthy cells to replace them. The word autophagy refers to the process of self-eating, which needs no explanation.
How can you make autophagy happen?
Autophagy happens as a result of hormesis. Hormesis is the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” type of stress. It throws your body a little bit off balance. You are designed to handle a bit of minor and occasional stress. Your body thrives on that and responds biologically in a favourable way. Nutrient deprivation from fasting, exercise and significant temperature change are all powerful ways of cellular stressors that trigger autophagy.
The most powerful way to stimulate autophagy is to fast for extended periods. However, you can still stimulate healthy levels of autophagy with daily intermittent fasting. It’s not always necessary to fast for 5 days to get the benefit. Get into a healthy rhythm of at least not eating for 16 hours a day, alternate it with anything between fasting for 16 – 24 hours. If you combine intermittent fasting with eating mostly low carb, it will help you to get into autophagy much quicker as well. Also remember that if you do fast for extended periods like 3-5 days, it’s very important to feast as well. The key principle is that when we fast, we fast. And we eat, we feast until we are full and satiated on nutrient-dense food. This balances the body between both cleansing and building healthy cells.
Do resistance training and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) or any training or exercise for that matter while in a fasted state. Exercising while fasting can ramp up autophagy, stimulate fat burning and being in ketosis and producing ketones will improve your mood and mental focus. Fasting and exercise both create an environment of stress for the body and together are very powerful.
Rapid temperature changes are a major stressor on our bodies, and we have to adapt quickly to get back to balance and homeostasis. Using short periods of intense heat and cold exposure has shown to promote autophagy and fat burning. Both heat and cold will also get your lymph circulation going to get rid of toxins. Saunas are a great way for heat adaptation and my personal favourite for cold adaptation is to end my hot shower with 1 minute of ice-cold water. Recently my husband and I started getting in our cold pool (the season in South Africa is changing to winter) after exercise and trying to stay there for 2-5 minutes before taking a hot shower. We want to try and do this through winter… will have to update you on this in spring if we accomplished it.
Sleep is such an important component of health and wellness that I have to mention that autophagy is also tied to good sleep. It’s during sleep that a lot of repair and detoxification happens. If your sleep is poor, it needs prioritization from your side to get it better. It will affect you on all levels of health, physical and emotional.
Benefits of autophagy
It gets rid of cells not working optimally
While it’s normal for your cells to age, it’s important for your body to get rid of cells not functioning at a high level anymore and replacing it with new ones. Autophagy will get rid of these old cells
Improve mitochondrial health
Again, autophagy will get rid of mitochondria that are dysfunctional and metabolically inflexible and will be replaced with new ones functioning optimally.
Eliminating virally infected cells
Especially in a time where our immune systems are fighting COVID-19, autophagy is your body’s natural way of removing infected cells and replacing them with healthy ones. A strong immune system can put viruses into a dormant state; however, it doesn’t actually get rid of them, luckily autophagy will.
Creates a stronger and more stress-resilient mind.
With COVID-19 around us, we are living in stressful and uncertain times, autophagy helps your cells to become stronger and healthier, and your body to become more resilient to stress. It may help to reduce inflammation and may help your brain health, mood, memory, and mental processing.
The damage that happens inside mitochondria is one of the main factors of ageing (which brings upon symptoms like increased pain, fatigue, and all the other wonderful things that happen to a body as its mitochondria degrade). Autophagy is part of your body’s innate immune system. Enhanced autophagy is essential for increasing energy, losing fat, improving mental clarity, lowering pain, reducing inflammation and improving your health. Make it a priority today.