What is it?  The 2016 Noble Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Japanese Scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi for his work in this area.  Autophagy literally translates to “self eat.”  It describes the way our cells clean up worn out debris, waste products, and toxins inside the cell.  Who cares?  You and I should.  Cells are the smallest unit of life.  All tissues and organs are made of cells.  Cells are the factories that carry out all of life’s fundamental processes.  Cellular health is human health.

In his work, Dr. Ohsumi noticed that the cellular mechanism responsible for “cleaning up” was activated when the cell was nutrient deprived or starved.  This “starving” of the cell caused lysosome activity to increase.

The  lysosome will break down “old, worn out” parts of the cell to be recycled.  This “self eating” process rapidly provides energy and building blocks for the cell.  It is an important mechanism in both starvation and infection.  The same lysosome will also break down bacterial cells for energy and building blocks.  Cells use autophagy to eliminate old proteins and organelles, a process vital to offset the effects of aging.  Disruptions in autophagy have been associated with Parkinson’s, Diabetes, and Cancer.

There have been several lifestyle modifications extrapolated from this work, intermittent fasting being the most popular.  Many in health and fitness have advocated this for some time.  Several methods are recommended.

Some recommend 24-hour fasts, eating at 8 a.m. on Monday and fasting until 8 a.m. on Tuesday for example.  Some recommendations are less “aggressive” with eight hours of feeding and sixteen hours between meals, eating from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. then fasting until 10 a.m. the following day.  Most Americans are over fed…and overeating with constant calorie-intake inhibits autophagy.  Is it any surprise then that health conditions such as Diabetes and Cancer continue to rise and be of concern?  If autophagy won the Noble Prize for a critical aspect of cellular health, shouldn’t we at least examine the health benefits for ourselves?

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