Here I am going to talk about a benefit of intermittent fasting that not a lot of people are familiar with. While fasting, our bodies go through a process called autophagy. Autophagy’s literal meaning, self eating, is a way the body metabolizes and repairs itself. During autophagy our cells are programmed to collect damaged parts and material from other cells and break them down into smaller parts to be recycled. Here nothing is going to waste in our body and damaged cells are broken down and reused.
While fasting our bodies become more efficient and we are able to naturally recycle any and all materials within our system to fuel and repair our bodies. What this implies is that we can stop cancerous growths and put an end to insidious metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Additionally, it’s been observed that intermittent fasting and autophagy can help regulate inflammation and increase immunity. It’s worth noting that when scientists removed the ability of autophagy from lab rates they soon became obese, void of energy, experienced hyper lipidemia and cognitive function was impaired.
If you ever heard of anyone trying to “cleanse” by way of juices or any other drink, this couldn’t be more counter-productive to promoting autophagy. The only true way to cleanse would be by way of autophagy which naturally occurs during intermittent fasting which can be accomplished by skipping a meal or extending a daily non eating window to 16 hours. When we choose to intermittent fast we begin to train the body to cleanse and repair itself because we are not tasking our system with digestion and processing food. Fasting allows for efficiency and redirects our bodies to use what we already have, fat, and get rid of damaged tissue our body no longer needs like cancerous growths.
Keeping repair in mind, research has been showing trends that fasting has lowered the risks of diabetes and heart disease. Not only are the metabolic benefits promising but research is also indicating autophagy in the brain may be effective to lowering the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkenson’s. Since I began fasting nearly 6 months ago, I have noticed that I feel more alert and I’m able to learn and experiment with things I have always avoided. This may in fact be evidence of increased neuroplasticiy.
Autophagy and ketosis both share similar characteristics. With ketosis the idea is to lower our carbohydrate intake such that our metabolism has only one choice for energy and that would be fat. Think of ketosis as a form of autophagy where fat cells are broken down into smaller parts so that we can use the content of our fat cells, triglycerides, as an energy source. The benefit of ketosis is that we can be in this state while eating as long as we consume the right amount of fat and protein which preserves our muscle mass from breaking down into energy.
An interesting analogy that I like to use when describing autophagy is, “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.” How does this apply to fasting and autophagy? From an evolutionary standpoint, our ancestral response to famine was simply to deal with it. After hundreds of thousands of years it makes sense that we as humans have adapted to extended times of fasting/famine. The take away here is that our ancestors have provided an efficient system within our bodies to repair and use alternate energy sources. The most intriguing aspect of autophagy is the evidence that we can repair and prevent diseases through behavior modification using basic food intake principals. Still on the fence about intermittent fasting? Perhaps the time to give it a try has arrived.