'Autophagy' literally means 'self-eating' and it is used to refer to the body eating its own cells by breaking down proteins. Luckily, the body is clever enough to only initiate this process to destroy cells that are unnecessary or unused. Your body uses this process to detoxify, cleanse, repair and regenerate itself on a cellular level. Autophagy can destroy damaged cells and infectious organisms, as well as clean out toxins, therefore reducing inflammation, slowing down the aging process, and optimizing biological function.
"Think of it as our body's innate recycling program. Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes."
- Dr. Colin E. Champ, M.D., the author of 'Misguided Medicine'
The body is an 'antifragile' organism which becomes stronger in response to stress. For example, exercise causes mild damage to muscles and other tissues in your body but the body is capable of repairing itself and ultimately the muscles and tissues become stronger. Mental facilities of the mind also have to be exercised and challenged to some degree to improve and to continue to function well. Some people even believe that a small amount of unhealthy food in the diet is helpful to keep the body producing enzymes that break down those foods.
This concept applies to the immune system also: Exposure of the body to a certain amount of bacteria is necessary for the immune system to 'learn' and to stay resistant to the bacteria.
The body seems to conserve energy by (sometimes) growing stronger only in response to repeated injury of some sort, in a spirit of 'use it or lose it'.
The idea of autophagy is similar to the fascinating concept of 'antifragile', developed by Prof. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He explains in his book:
"Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."
Therefore, a correct amount of stress is needed to strengthen the mind and body – not too much and not too little. As always, it is a matter of balance.
In practice not all types of damage are useful. When it comes to autophagy, researchers have found very specific 'rules' on how to optimize autophagy in the body for health benefits. As Dr. Mercola explains: Autophagy can be triggered by: high-intensity exercise, intermittent fasting, calorie restriction, ketogenic diet (high fat, low-carb diet).
As Nick English explains on Greatist.com:
"...if staying in ketosis sounds even harder than not eating at all, take heart. Similar benefits have been noted in people following a diet in which carbs didn't exceed 30 percent of the overall calories." He also states: "Just remember, you don't have to fast, stay in ketosis, or exercise intensely all day every day to experience these benefits – even a few hours of any of these activities can help."
According to Wikipedia, extra virgin olive oil and cannabis can also increase autophagy, due to specific nutritious compounds present in them. Interestingly, Mercola also explains that one way to radically inhibit autophagy is to eat too much protein. He recommends eating approximately 1 gram of protein per each kilogram of lean body mass per day, or approximately 40-70g per day, depending on the person, but not more.
In conclusion: Some types of stress can be good for the body and the mind, but to gain benefits it has to be very specific kind of stress, in moderation, and repeated regularly. Choose carefully what types of stress you want to learn to tolerate better and keep in mind energy preservation also, as has been discussed in the CHR book.This article is a sample chapter from the CHR ebook, which can be bought or borrowed on Amazon Kindle.
Ulla is the Editor of Cheap Health Revolution, covering natural remedies and health solutions.