Autophagy - the renewal of the body through starvation? How to start correctly.

Autophagy - the renewal of the body through starvation? How to start correctly.

Autophagy - the renewal of the body through starvation? How to start correctly.
Autophagy - the renewal of the body through starvation? How to start correctly.

In simple words, autophagy is a mechanism by which the body gets rid of unnecessary or damaged cells by recycling their components. Ultimately, this leads to improved performance for others.

Autophagy occurs when the body is in a state of starvation - this mechanism is the basis of fasting days, as well as periodic fasting. The process was first fully studied by Japanese scientist Yoshinori Osumi, who received the Nobel Prize for his discovery in 2016.

Autophagy - what is it?

Autophagy - what is it?

Autophagy (derived from the Greek words "auto" and "phagia", which literally means "self-eating") is a natural mechanism that removes dysfunctional components of various cells in humans, animals and microorganisms.

The illustration above is an example of the simplest type of autophagy - microautophagy. First, an insulating membrane surrounds unnecessary cellular structures, then through an acidic environment and the action of enzymes, intracellular digestion of macromolecules occurs.

It should be noted that autophagy accompanies the vital activity of any normal cell under normal conditions - that is, not only during starvation. However, the lack of nutrients is undoubtedly able to activate and accelerate these processes.

Why is this process necessary?

In fact, autophagy is a key mode of programmed cell death. If these processes are disrupted, the unremoved parts of the dead cells can lead to inflammatory processes as well as connective tissue proliferation.

Obviously, disorders of autophagic processes underlie the development of heart failure, as well as various neurodegenerative disorders (eg, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease). This issue is currently being actively addressed by science.

Practical use

As mentioned above, autophagy is a natural mechanism for cell renewal - that is, in an autonomous mode, to some extent, the process is always present in the body. Low glucose levels (achieved through starvation) can activate autophagy.

In practice, this comes down to the fact that periodic fasting has a positive effect on the life expectancy of laboratory animals - in the case of mice we are talking about a significant difference of up to 20% ¹.

In addition, studies have shown that the cessation (or interruption) of autophagic processes is associated with toxic tissue damage2.

What does it give and what is the benefit?

Because autophagy breaks down cellular material during starvation and reuses it for metabolic purposes, it can help strengthen the body's immune system. In addition, at the cellular level, autophagy can reduce the risk of developing some forms of cancer.

//  Benefits of Autophagy³:

  • promotes the regeneration of body cells
  • can strengthen the immune system
  • may reduce the risk of developing certain cancers
  • affects the development of diabetes
  • improves the condition of the skin and tissues (including the cardiovascular system)
  • serves as an anti-aging mechanism

Autophagy - what to eat and what not?

Autophagy - what to eat and what not?

Note that the 16/8 periodic fasting method   , which consists of avoiding food daily for 16 hours and 8 hours when food is allowed, is only the most popular - however, there are no studies to show that it is better or worse than other regimens (e.g. 14/10 or 12/12 or even whole days on an empty stomach).

It should be understood that studies on the effect of autophagy on the life expectancy of individuals for ethical reasons are not performed in humans - that is, science cannot currently recommend clear fasting models, as well as lists of permitted or prohibited foods and beverages.

When does it start?

First of all, the activation of autophagic processes is influenced by the low level of glucose (and insulin) in the blood - achieved through 8-12 hours of refusal to eat and fast. In most cases, night sleep is a key activator of autophagy.

In addition, it appears that autophagy can be accelerated when certain amino acids are missing - but the mechanism is not fully understood  4  .


Autophagy is a natural mechanism aimed at eliminating unwanted cells and having a positive effect on health markers. Despite the fact that autophagy is at the heart of the technique of intermittent fasting, at present science cannot clearly recommend a specific fasting regimen suitable for everyone.

Data sources:

  1. Atg5 overexpression in mice activates autophagy and prolongs life,  source
  2. Mice for autophagy and autophagy deficiency,  source
  3. Intermittent starvation and human metabolic health,  source
  4. Autophagy and amino acids with their metabolites,  source