Autophagy Part 2: How to Help Your Body Renew

by Jeanne Logman NT –Market Manager, Tacoma

Autophagy: an ingenious biological design aimed at keeping our systems running at top efficiency. Unfortunately, with our modern lifestyles, we often unwittingly get in the way of this process.

Last month we introduced the concept of autophagy (ah-TAHF-uh-jee), the body’s system of recycling aging and damaged cells.

Interruption of this metabolic function results in an increased burden on the organs responsible for detoxifying and maintaining metabolism. Initially, this can result in fatigue, weight gain, foggy thinking, compromised immunity, and lack of energy. If steps are not taken to promote autophagy, inflammation and prematurely aging cells can pave the way for a host of degenerative diseases.

“Think of it as the body’s innate recycling program,” says Colin Champ, MD, assistant professor at The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Autophagy makes us more efficient machines that can get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.” (1)

Especially at this time of year, many of us gravitate toward
goals that make a positive impact on our individual state of health. Many people set goals for weight loss, but how many of us really consider vitality itself as a goal? Clear thinking? A disease-free system? A vibrant, energetic body aging without the burdens of debilitating pain and immobility? Yet this is the natural state of a well nourished body maximized by autophagy.

For those of you interested in how you can boost your own autophagic functions, here are the five proven ways:

1. Consume a diet high in unprocessed, plant-based omega-3 fats.
The target to aim for is 60-70% of your daily calories to be made up of these healthy fats.

For example, a person who consumes about 1,500 calories per day should be working toward having 900-1,050 of those calories come from seeds, nuts, avocados, coconut, etc.

Seed sources that are richest in omega-3s are flax, hemp, and chia. Try sprinkling generous amounts of these seeds over salads and cereals. They can be added to soups, gravies, and hot cereals as well, provided they are added after cooking and consumed immediately.

One of the most convenient ways to add plant-sourced omega-3 fats is to buy a cold-pressed bottled oil for adding to smoothies and other dishes or just taking it directly from a spoon. A high-quality favorite is Udo’s Choice 3-6-9 oil, available at Marlene’s.

All nuts contain healthy fats, but walnuts and pecans are highest in omega-3. Other good sources of plant fats are avocado, olive and coconut.

2. Consume a moderate amount of protein.
Autophagy is actually inhibited by consuming too much protein. The reason is fascinating: your cells are already recycling protein from the waste cells. Up to 200 grams can be harvested during this process.

An autophagy-friendly diet doesn’t have to be complicated:
• Eliminate refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar.
• Consume lots of fibrous vegetables. A good visual is that vegetables should cover two thirds of your plate, and ideally, at least one third should be raw. Think of dark green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, collards, chards and lettuces, radishes, and turnips.
• Eat small amounts of starchy vegetables, beans, and whole grains. A good visual is to treat starches like they are a garnish to the meal. Quarter the portion of what would be considered a regular serving For example, if you would normally eat one cup of red beans and rice, serve yourself ¼ cup instead. Make up for the other ¾ cup with a vegetable and a fat like steamed broccoli with seasoned coconut oil. One cup of curried sweet potatoes becomes ¼ cup with ¾ cup of seasoned sliced tomatoes and avocado.

3. Exercise daily for a minimum of 20 minutes to a maximum of one hour.
Both aerobic and weight-bearing exercise is effective for stimulating cell renewal. A good place to start would to alternate these two exercise types every other day.

As you form a routine and become confident with it, look into a method called ‘Tabata’.

Tabata is a way of peppering an average work out with high intensity bursts. Using this method, for just a total of 4-8 minutes of your established routine, can have amazing results in building endurance and revving the metabolism to burn fat for a solid 24 hours. In addition, Tabata has been shown to boost cell longevity by an average of 13% (2).

4. Incorporate intermittent fasting.
Fasting is an age-old tradition for many cultures and religions. As it turns out, science is finding more and more evidence that our bodies are not only equipped to survive significant stretches of time without food, they cannot thrive without these breaks.

It takes an incredible amount of energy to break down, assimilate and reassemble foods. The digestive system is designed to regulate and clear itself of waste cells and debris. It cannot effectively do so if it is constantly engaged in digestion.

Also, the human gastrointestinal system houses 70% of the immune system. It is critically important to allow for the repair and renewal of the gut for the sake of the entire body!

Intermittent fasting can be effective with as few as 16 hours in a row. That means that a person could consume all of their day’s calories between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm, and that would be enough to support autophagy.

It should be noted that a person should not restrict water or non-calorie, nutritive beverages like green and herbal teas during this time. Hydration is an essential component to a smooth-running, efficient system.

5. Finally, find joy in self-care.
Remember that if you give yourself the best tools for vitality, everything and everyone in your life benefits. Be present, thankful, giving and forgiving, and keep a sense of humor. I wish you vibrant health and happiness in 2017!

Jeanne Logman is a Nutritional Therapist on staff at Marlene’s Market & Deli.

(1)Misguided Medicine, Dr. Colin Champ, MD
(2)For more on Tabata, read