You can classify this post under the premise: "If you aren't careful, you might learn something new every day."
I had never even heard of this term until 5 weeks ago, when I began researching intermittent fasting for weight loss. It turns out there are a whole lot more benefits to fasting than just losing weight, and autophagy is one of the biggies.
Autophagy literally means "to eat yourself." Once in awhile my high school Latin classes come in handy..."auto" means "self" (think autobiography=life of yourself, automatic=move by itself, autograph=sign by self) and "phagy" means "eat" (think esophagus...I can't come up with any other words right now, but you get the point....).
Now, that sounds kinda gross and barbaric and even cannibalistic. But autophagy is actually occurring inside our cells continually. What time-restricted eating (shortening our feeding window which allows our insulin levels to drop) and intermittent fasting does is ramp up and enhance the autophagy process.
The leading pioneer in this new area of cellular study is this doctor, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize for discovering the mechanisms of autophagy. That's just a few years ago, so this area of research is very new and scientists are learning more about it with each study, but here's what we do know and why autophagy is so important to me.
Enhancing autophagy in our bodies very likely can "clean up" our brain cells and reduce or even prevent the onset of diminished cognitive skills, such as dementia and Alzheimer's. Talk about what scares me the most as I age...it's not cancer, but instead losing my brain capacity. Dad died with severe Alzheimer's and Mama is increasingly showing signs of dementia. Dementia is prevalent in grandparents, aunts, and uncles on both sides of my family tree. If there's one health road that terrifies me the most, it's that one.
In very simple laywoman's terms (which is about all I understand in the medical science arena), autophagy is the process where our amazingly-created bodies do some recycling and housecleaning, taking worn out parts in our cells and recycling them into reusable healthy parts. We're talking unneeded cells like extra skin (that is not needed when we lose weight), scar tissue, old yucky bone and muscle cells, and (my favorite!) damaged and misfolded protein cells in our brains that prevent the neural pathways from functioning correctly.
Autophagy may explain the mental clarity and focus that occurs during fasting. In the book "Unbroken" (which I highly recommend) about WWII prisoners of war, those men who were emaciated and literally starving reported astonishing mental abilities like being able to memorize and recite long passages of books and learn new languages easily as well as unusual strength to accomplish things they normally wouldn't have. Certainly not what you'd expect from a starving person. But think about it...our ancient ancestors needed that mental clarity and strength to hunt for their next meal. If they'd withered away with no energy or focus, they would have died. God created in our bodies that wonderful mechanism to sustain life!
While it is a very individual process and the science is still in its infancy stages, it appears that enhanced autophagy begins about 24 hours into fasting and is optimal at around 72 hours. As we age, our process of autophagy decreases steadily, so enhancing that process can potentially add healthy and vibrant years to our lives as well as keep our brain highly-functioning. Who wouldn't want that????
So...even when my weight loss is finished, I still plan to continue incorporating fasting into my lifestyle if for no other reason than that.
Say it three times and it's yours. AUTOPHAGY.
Now you've learned something new today. It's all about...