autophagy and intermittent fasting for health

by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News

Autophagy is essentially an intra-cellular survival system of removing waste and malformed cellular components from the liquids within animal and human cells. This phenomenon was noticed a half-century ago in animals but soon forgotten.

Recently, Japanese cell biologist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, researched autophagy more thoroughly to discover its value for humans, leading to how it can be stimulated and controlled for weight loss and other even more important health considerations disclosed in this article. 

Ohsumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2016 for his autophagy discoveries.

The word itself is derived from Greek and means self-eating. It’s an enzymatic degradation process that serves to remove faulty cellular particles and reorganize them better for better health, immunity, metabolism, and anti-aging. According to a 2010 published review:

Thus, autophagy may be thought of as a cellular ‘recycling factory’ that also promotes energy efficiency through ATP [adenosine triphosphate] generation and mediates damage control by removing non-functional proteins and organelles. (Source)

Autophagy that’s not interrupted or inhibited by poor dietary habits can induce better metabolism for greater overall energy, increase natural HGH (human growth hormone) production, resolve obesity, create insulin management, reverse pre-diabetes, and protect against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Eric Berg explains autophagy concisely and clearly in this video.

Moderate exercising and some dietary approaches contribute to autophagy. Before discussing the nutrients that stimulate autophagy, let’s begin with the counter-intuitive, yet most effective, approach for stimulating autophagy – fasting.

The easiest fasting method for most of us is intermittent fasting.

Fasting Protocols That Stimulate Autophagy

The idea of fasting for many is terrifying. We’ve been programmed to eat large breakfasts. The word itself is a combination of bread and fast. While you sleep you’re fasting. Then continue with two more meals with snacks in between and after. Most of us have become addicting to “grazing” all day!

Yet, if you consider the reality of human history and contemporary indigenous tribal groups, going without food for several days isn’t unusual. It’s our food industry nutritional guideline programming and constant TV fast food ads that offer eating solutions to our stressful lifestyles that have contributed to the rise of obesity and autoimmune diseases.

Only a few individuals can manage long-term fasting over five days. Some have managed to fast with only water for a month or more. Juicing for 10 days to a month or more without consuming solid foods has been very successful for some who wish to maintain nutritional intake and initiate autophagy.

India’s ancient medicine, Ayurveda, which is still available and present in some USA locations, prescribes fasting with water only (purified of course) once a week. This could be considered intermittent fasting. 

But recent discoveries provide an even more powerful method of intermittent fasting daily for extended periods until health goals are achieved. One method is simply eating one day then fasting the next with purified water only, alternating this eating protocol for several weeks.

Another method involves “block fasting”. That is, going around four days with water only then back to eating normally for the remainder of the month for several months until one’s health goals are achieved.

The easiest for most of us, which has become popular lately, is daily intermittent fasting by reducing one’s window for eating to six hours a day. For example, if you wake up at 7:00 AM and eat your last meal at around 7:00 PM, you shouldn’t eat any solid foods until 1:00 PM. After your last meal, no snacking. The six-hour window is timed according to your lifestyle or work routines.

If this is too difficult or impractical at first, use an eight-hour window for starters, then work into the six-hour window, if possible. 

Depending on one’s toxic load and addiction to snacking throughout the day, there will be difficult times, especially with the potential of Herxheimer or healing crisis events from detoxing. This is why increased water consumption is recommended. 

Most water or juicing-only fasts create healing crisis’s within the first few days that will last for a few days. Intermittent fasting takes longer to “hit the wall” with reduced impact. But the discomfort can persist for several days as sort of a Herxheimer “sustained release” event. 

Weight Loss from Reduced Body Fat

Weight loss comes naturally from an autophagy process after some time. It may take longer than a crash diet, but the results are permanent. Essentially, fasting of any kind changes the body from being a sugar or carb energy-burner into a fat-burner, at least to a greater extent than before the fasting period.

One’s liver function is a factor that determines the time it takes to become a fat-burner. The liver stores an easily-accessed energy reserve from unspent carbohydrate/glucose called glycogen. This is accessible for energy used before stored fats can be tapped for energy. 

Triglyceride is reduced from fat cells with autophagy. But the fat cells remain and fill up with water at first. Then eventually the water goes out, along with the waistline and excess weight, with a reduced body mass index (BMI). 

The primary purpose of autophagy is to restore health with hormonal homeostasis and turn different genes on or off to reduce disease or restore health. The latter genetic intervention that influences gene functions during one’s lifetime is called epigenetics.

Some major hormones autophagy influences toward homeostasis or functional physiological balance are:


Chronic exposure to refined carbohydrates and simple sugars can cause elevated levels of insulin, which drives glucose levels down.  This can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  Over time, tissues may become less sensitive to insulin and as a result, glucose cannot enter the cells as easily.  This means more glucose in the bloodstream and a greater tendency to convert it into fat instead of energy.  Elevated insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) cause the body to have difficulty breaking down fat also. (Source)

Insulin resistance is the main marker for metabolic syndrome, which is known as pre-diabetes. It’s a precursor to diabetes 2.


This hormone tells you when you’ve had enough to eat to stop you from the obvious threat of overeating and creating more glucose than can be handled as an energy source and stored as fat. Autophagy encourages leptin production.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH):

HGH products are the Fountain of Youth and Holy Grail sought by anti-aging fanatics. HGH, normally produced by the pituitary gland, spurs growth but wanes as we age. It also helps to regulate body composition, body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and possibly heart function

Celebrities pay dearly for HGH off-label pharmaceutical injections attempting to maintain a younger look. But this is a risky way to go about it because of potential side effects, including more hormonal imbalance.

Autophagy helps boost one’s own body restore HGH production in the pituitary gland on its own without pharmaceutical HGH injections or supplements. It is an important aspect of internal and external tissue production. 

All things considered, autophagy is an internal reset. 

Some Autophagy Boosters 

Many fasting-induced autophagy advocates endorse the high-fat ketogenic diet for non-fasting periods, regardless of which fasting method is used. That period could be six hours daily, every other day, or the rest of the month after a few days of fasting. 

If one doesn’t choose to go Keto, it’s advised to almost or completely eliminate processed foods, especially those that are or contain refined carbs and sugars. Consume organic and grass-fed products. Regardless of one’s dietary approach, artificial sweeteners are absolute no-nos, as are all GMO foods. 

Because the ketogenic diet is heavy with natural wholesome fats, one’s ability to feel satiated, not longing for snacks, is more easily maintained. Go here for more on ketogenic dieting. The following video explains the combination of keto dieting with intermittent fasting.

Getting sufficient, uninterrupted, high-quality sleep is also part of the protocol. Sleep disruptions interfere with the autophagy process. A study that demonstrated this is available here.

Moderate, daily exercise is helpful. It doesn’t mean you need to knock yourself out at the gym or become a marathon runner. Simple, gentle aerobics or brisking walking over a mile daily will do. 

Coconut Oil is the best choice of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are transformed by the liver into ketones that can be utilized of energy completely without becoming glucose. Ketones don’t need insulin to be transported into cells for energy. 

Coconut oil’s MCT conversion into ketones avoids storing fat in the body from glucose that’s not converted into energy. See more on this here.

Coffee and/or Green Tea, moderately consumed without sugar or cream, is actually helpful for the autophagy process. Either should be organic. 

Some autophagy advocates like to use black coffee with either butter or coconut oil,  aka “bulletproof” coffee. Espresso, not latte or any other overly sweetened coffee drink, is convenient, especially if you have a relatively inexpensive home espresso machine. 

High-quality green teas with comparatively low fluoride levels should be sought out. Green tea contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG), which in addition to helping treat a variety of diseases, also favorably influences autophagy.  (Source study)

Melatonin supplements enable one to enjoy two autophagy boosters in one. Melatonin induces a deeper, less-interrupted sleep to enhance autophagy. And the melatonin molecule itself boosts the process. Don’t take melatonin while engaged in an activity. Take it an hour or less before retiring.

Vitamin D has proven effective for encouraging autophagy. Considered more a pre-hormone than a vitamin, it has a direct effect on the body’s hormone production and balance,

Consulting with a holistic or integrative medical practitioner who is aware of autophagy is recommended if possible. Otherwise, there are some Facebook fasting sites to look into to gain more familiarity or feedback for your questions or experiences with fasting for autophagy.

The video below contains a great lecture that explains how fasting works for autophagy by Dr. Jason Fung of Diet Doctor

Other references include:

What Does It Mean to Be Fat-Adapted?

What is Autophagy?

Long Fasts:Worth the Risk? 

Autophagy: Research Behind the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Autophagy & Intermittent Fasting: Activate Garbage Recycling and Cellular Remodeling