November 16, 2018

Intermittent Fasting and Autophagy

Wait! Don’t click off this page!  If you are looking to create a healthier body and mind or lose stored body fat then continue reading!

Maybe you don’t like the idea of going a period of time without food?  Maybe you think fasting is too rigid?  Maybe you think fasting wouldn’t fit in to your lifestyle?  Well, if you are struggling with health and weight issues then this topic is a necessary read. What harm could there be in learning about Intermittent Fasting and Autophagy?  You might actually have a different opinion when you finish reading!

Fasting and Our Ancestors

Mammoth Hunter

Fasting is not a fad or craze and it isn’t even something new.  Our ancestors for thousands of years either chose to or were forced to engage in fasting.  When food was scarce, either due to seasonal change or animal migrations, our ancestors would eat what they could and not eat again for several days until more food could be gathered or rationed. This fasting period was not unhealthy nor did it kill anyone (not talking about actually starvation – just conserved eating).  In fact, it helped create lean muscular bodies, which was required to continue the hunting and gathering necessary to feed themselves, their families and clans.

Today food, and I used this term loosely as there are lots of edibles masquerading as food out there, is plentiful so our mentality towards food has changed.  We stopped listening to our bodies and put our trust in the government, western medicine and the various food agencies to tell us what and when we need to eat. Can you see why our obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, blood pressure, auto-immune conditions and dementia rates are off the charts?

Fasting in Culture and Religion

Nearly every culture and religion in the world has some practice of fasting woven into their framework, some dating back thousands of years. While fasting is generally associated with a religious intent, there are many cultures that use fasting as a bonding event.  One such use was by Native Americans who fasted before engaging in a big hunt or readying for war.  They also used fasting as part of their rite of passage into manhood where they would partake in a spirit quest. (1)

Religious FastingFasting probably has bigger roots in religion.  It is performed during different times throughout the year and for specific “holy” days, such as Lent for the Christians, Ramadan for the people of Islam, and Yom Kippur for those of Judaism. It is used as a means to identify with the suffering of a spiritual leader, as a means to purge or cleanse the body, or as a means for self reflection and improvement.

Fasting also allows one to spend time on introspection and communing with one’s deity.  When practiced with others it can create solidarity and a means to empathize with those less fortunate than yourself. Many will find, by removing the distraction of food, they are able to achieve a greater sense of self-reflection and connection, which ultimately brings them closer to God (or higher power you believe in).

Whether you choose to fast as part of a cultural or religious experience, there is also a positive health benefit to fasting.  Most who practice fasting for these reasons will tell you there are positive health changes not only to their physical body but to their mental acuity as well.

Moving Back Towards Health

Would you believe by returning to a more holistic way of eating along with intermittent fasting you can restore most, or all, of your health and probably even make you healthier than you have ever been in your life?

In fact, Dr. Jason Fung, an established expert on Keto and Fasting, explains that health and weight management all comes down to one thing – the management of the hormone insulin in our system.  Equally important to WHAT we eat is WHEN we eat!  When we eat insulin production is triggered, thus thwarting any fat burning efforts. If we are eating and snacking most of our day then fat burning, i.e. weight loss, will not happen. We’ll explore more on this below.

We will also need to add healthier lifestyle changes in there too, such as smoking cessation, reduction in stress levels and some daily form of mild to moderate exercise to round out a balanced health approach.

Let’s take a look at intermittent fasting and autophagy. It’s part of my personal health makeover, which I will share later in this article.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Along with a successful new way of eating you may want to supplement your health quest with intermittent fasting.  Fasting is essentially the purposeful withholding of solid foods or drinks during a specific period of time in order to enhance the fat burning and cellular maintenance mode.   There are several benefits to fasting, among them include:

  • It causes insulin levels to drop, which improves insulin sensitivity, optimizes blood sugar levels and burns fat.
  • It can also increase levels of human growth hormone (HGH), an important hormone involved in cellular regeneration that has been linked to improvements in body composition and decreased body fat.
  • Plus, short-term fasting has been shown to induce autophagy, an important cellular repair process that helps remove waste and toxins to keep your body healthy.
  • Other research suggests that intermittent fasting may offer protection against chronic disease and brain aging by altering specific genes and molecules within your body. (2)

There are several intermittent fasting models and theories that span cultures and religions around the world.  Let’s take a look at the most common ones.

Intermittent Fasting

This is probably one of the most common and easy to achieve fasting methods that has been practiced for thousand of years. Essentially you do not eat or drink calorie-containing beverages during a 12-20 hour period and then eat within your meal plan during the remaining hours of the day.  For example, in a 16/8 plan, which is one of the more common models, you could fast between 7pm at night until 11am the next morning, then eat during the 11am to 7pm time period.  In this model you can shift your timeframe to hours that work best for your needs.

Fasting Plate

Most people will find success in this intermittent fasting model and can be readily adapted into people’s lifestyle. It is recommended that you eat one or more well-balanced meals along with healthy snacks to keep your blood sugar levels stable and hunger under control.  Remember to eat real whole foods and avoid processed and sugary foods during your eating time.  Otherwise, you will nullify the benefits you are trying to achieve by fasting.

You can drink water, non-caloric flavored water, lemon water, plain unsweetened coffee (hot or cold),  and plain unsweetened tea (hot or cold; green is fine, not black, ginger or fruit teas) during the fasting period to keep yourself hydrated.  It will also help you control your appetite during the fast. What you are trying to avoid is raising your glycogen levels so that your body will start converting over to burning your stored fat.

This model of fasting can be employed on weekends, a couple times of week or even daily.  This is known as alternate day fasts or time-restricted fasting.  Most people find it easier to adopt the 16/8 model daily as part of their regular regimen in a healthy eating and weight loss strategy.  It allows people to eat with family or in social situations without sacrificing the benefits of a fasting period.

Benefits:

  • Increased weight loss – by restricting calories over a period of time, studies have shown intermittent fasting can boost your metabolism and lead to increased weight loss.
  • Better control over blood sugar levels – intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce insulin levels and overall blood sugar levels thus helping to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes (3)
  • Improved brain function – studies show intermittent fasting helps slow down the degeneration of current brain neural cells and promote the health generation of new neural cells, thus leading to improved brain function. (4)
  • Increased longevity – intermittent fasting has been shown in mice to increase the longevity of life significantly while retarding the rate of aging development. (5, 6)

Caveats:

  • Commitment – some people may not be able to commit to a regular intermittent fasting schedule, thus will not be able to reap the full rewards fasting can have on the body.
  • Eating Plan – some people may feel hunger pangs during a fasting period prompting them to cheat or overeat during their eating window, which would negate the positive effects of fasting.  (Your chosen eating plan is critical for fasting success!  If your body is heavily glucose dependent for its fuel source then hunger pangs during the fast or overeating will present a challenge to your overall success.)
  • Male versus Female – the effect of intermittent fasting can vary between the sexes.  This is particularly true during a women’s fertility years when trying to conceive and even when she becomes pregnant.  Consultation with your physician or nutritionist is vital before you begin any intermittent fasting program, especially if you are female and considering or are pregnant! (7)

Intermittent Fasting Summary

An intermittent fasting plan could be a safe and beneficial way to improve your overall health when coupled with a nutritious eating plan.  Whether you choose to employ a daily 12/12, 14/10, 16/8, or 18/6 schedule, use an alternate day schedule or a couple times a week schedule, you can choose a schedule which works for your lifestyle and is something you can sustain, which is the key.

As always, consult with your physician or nutritionist before you begin any intermittent fasting program, especially if you have any underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, blood pressure issues or any eating disorders.  If you experience any irregularities or concerns with your health during the fasting plan consult your physician or nutritionist for assistance.

Fasting

During a true fast, just as in Intermittent Fasting, you abstain from all food and drinks except water (plain, seltzer or other non-calorie), plain teas and plain coffees.  Some people add a low calorie bone broth too for a little more sustenance and variety.

Empty Fasting PlateIf this is your first time embarking on a fast of 24 hours or more, try just one 24 hour period and see how you fare.  Once you know how your body will respond you can move up to 36, 48, 72 or more hours to achieve greater health and weight loss effects.

I like Dr. Jason Fung’s comment in his Youtube video (minute 20:19) where he asks his son how people can lose weight and his son said “just stop eating.”  From the mouths of babes!  This is the right thing to do along with eating a better diet (no sugars and processed foods).  It’s not about calorie restrictions or exercising yourself into a frenzy.  It’s about fasting.

What You Eat Matters!

Changing over to a ketogenic or keto-like eating plan is a great pair to a fasting program.  This is due to your body using fat, instead of glucose, as your fuel source.  When your body is using glucose, or sugars, for fuel it will cause your body to experience insulin resistance and blood sugar issues.  This happens when your insulin hormone can no longer manage the glucose entering and being used by your cells as food.  Glucose then backs up in the blood causing pre-diabetic and Type 2 Diabetes issues.  Let’s not forget that any excess glucose not used directly as food for your cells ends up in storage in your liver and other body areas!

In a ketogenic eating plan there is no excess glycogen to store, as your body uses ketones from the ketosis process to provide fuel to your cells.  This means when you fast you will be accessing your stored fat immediately, given there is no immediate carbohydrates or glucose available, and start burning the excess stored fat more efficiently and effectively.

There are several great videos below that can explain in greater detail how a glucose versus fat-based eating plans work and their effects on a fasting process.  I highly recommend you watch several of them to educate yourself on the effects of choosing your food plan and pairing it with a fasting plan.

What to Look For During the Fast

During your fasting window you need to keep yourself properly hydrated with lots of water.  You also need to keep your electrolyte levels in balance to avoid negative side effects of your fasting process.  The main electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.  I personally take supplements each day to maintain those levels (along with other vitamins for health conditions causing these deficiencies).

It is important to recognize any new or unusual symptoms you experience during your fast.  If you experience dizziness, nausea, headaches, constipation, low blood pressure and low productivity you may not be drinking enough water.  During a fast you will need to drink more water than usual.  This is particularly true if you do any sort of workouts where you sweat, losing precious water and sodium.

Other symptoms could include muscle cramping and joint aches, which could indicate magnesium deficiencies.  Dizziness, lethargy, nausea, blood pressure and fatigue issues could indicate a sodium deficiency.  You may either need to take sodium tablets during the fast or make sure your body maintains a healthy level of sodium going into the fast.  The longer your fasting period the more you need to pay attention to your water and electrolyte levels.

Consult your physician with any problems or abnormalities during your fast period.  Pregnant women should not be engaging in fasting as well as women looking to get pregnant,

Autophagy

This is a great topic and a vital component of intermittent fasting that you do not want to overlook!  As a person who needs to shed over 300 pounds I am worried about lots of saggy droopy skin all over my body.  The thought of surgeries to cut away thick folds of skin from my legs, arms and abdomen really concern me and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  What if I told you your body can handle this problem for you?

Your skin is the largest organ in your body.  It takes about three months to fully replace all your skin cells.  If you are losing weight over those months and notice loose saggy skin, don’t worry.  Depending on the nature and quality of food you put in your body your skin is capable of “eating” or reabsorbing the loose saggy skin you no longer need through a process called autophagy.  WOW!

Autophagy (meaning “self eating”) is defined as the “consumption of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process occurring in starvation and certain diseases.” (8) Researchers believe this process is activated during times of extreme stress or starvation when a lack of adequate nutrients are available.  It essentially acts as your body’s  protection mechanism ensuring homeostasis is maintained by examining each cell for damaged parts, specifically organelles, ribosomes and protein aggregates and slating them for removal.

 

Autophagy diagram
Autophagy depication courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.
Click the image to visit the National Library of Medicine.

 

The autophagy process helps destroy and reuse the damaged components within cells.  It basically works by using the waste material to create new building materials or blocks for other cells in need of repair or regeneration.  This process is essential for reducing inflammation pathways, “promot[ing] cellular senescence and cell surface antigen presentation, protects against genome instability and prevents necrosis, giving it a key role in preventing diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiomyopathy, diabetes, liver disease, autoimmune diseases and infections.” (9)

The benefits from autophagy are HUGE!  I am looking at this process to help reduce inflammation and naturally eliminate saggy skin after weight loss, but imagine what this process can do for those with more advanced diseases and conditions.  Essentially, this process can “eat” the damaging plaque that clogs arteries and degrades healthy neural activity meaning we could significantly reduce the onset of early aging, dementia, Parkinson and Alzheimer’s just by letting your body do what is was designed to do!

How to Invoke Autophagy

Exactly how autophagy selects or does not select material for recycling is still being studied.  However, the process is an essential function of our cellular maintenance and we have stopped invoking its powerful benefits in keeping our bodies healthy.  This where fasting and intermittent fasting plays a huge part. While autophagy is always an active process in our bodies, there are ways to jump-start its effects to receive maximum benefits.  How do we do this?

  • Fasting or Intermittent Fasting –  we can use a “good” stress on our system to help bolster the effects of autophagy by restricting consumption of solid foods and (near) calorie free beverages.  Your system will need between 12 and 24 hours of intermittent fasting to ramp up autophagy.  Ideally you would want to do a full fasting of 24 hours or more to reap the full effects.  Do not exceed 72 hours of fasting with the approval of your physician or nutritionist.
  • Exercise –  Exercise is another form of “good” stress on the body as it breaks down tissue and rebuilds it.  Research has shown that “exercise induces autophagy in multiple organs involved in metabolic regulation, such as muscle, liver, pancreas and adipose tissue.” (10)  It has yet to be determined how much exercise is needed to maximize the benefits of autophagy, but results for skeletal and cardiac muscles show increased autophagy activity after 30 and plateauing after 80 minutes.
  • Ketogenic eating plan – a ketogenic or keto eating plan is a high-fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate way of eating.  In this plan your body shifts from being a glucose (sugar) burning machine to a fat burning one.  After your body has successful shifted into fat burning mode, it will enter a state of ketosis, where your body will produce ketones, the fuel byproduct of the breakdown of fatty acids.  In the absence of sufficient carbohydrates and glucose your body will move into a starvation-induced autophagy (even though you are not really starving) hence ramping up your body’s ability to “clean house” faster and more efficiently.

Again, it must be stated that women trying to get pregnant or who are pregnant should NOT be engaging in fasting or changing eating plans without approval from their physician.  The same warning applies to those with medical conditions or taking medications since you cannot predict how fasting, changing to a ketogenic diet or ramping up your exercise regimen will affect you.

Apoptosis

While autophagy can maximize the clean-up process, we need to acknowledge its partner – apoptosis – which is responsible for programming the death of a cell.  A cell dies in one of two ways, either from necrosis from an injury, disease, poison or removal, or from apoptosis through a programmed death process.  While apoptosis sounds horrible, it is a necessary process to keep inflammation and disease from spreading to other areas of the body.

Paraptosis
Possible Cellular Pathways

Researchers conclude “in some conditions, autophagy can [also] lead to cell death. Apoptosis and autophagy can be stimulated by the same stresses. Emerging evidence indicates an interplay between the core proteins in both pathways, which underlies the molecular mechanism of the crosstalk between apoptosis and autophagy.” (11)

There is a complex relationship between the roles of autophagy and apoptosis. Some researchers state autophagy can actually program a cell’s death if the material within the cell is deemed salvageable where others believe only apoptosis is the only process that can kill off a cell. This distinction is important in researching treatments for cellular diseases and treatments such as cancers and radiation where the apoptosis process may be altered or non-functional.

For the purposes of our discussion on reducing loose saggy skin I will not elaborate on this topic further.  Just know there are a couple key processes that need to happen to address our loose skin needs.  I will provide links below where you can review further information in case you are interested in learning more about apoptosis.

Personal Note

Many of you know I suffer from very painful severe stage Lipo-Lymphedema in my arms, legs, hips and abdomen along with osteoarthritis, mast cell activation disease, Celiac disease, leaky gut, hypermobility (EDS), IBS, CVID and a few other developing auto-immune diseases.  Needless to say, there is constant and varying levels of pain and inflammation in my body.

After decades of trying to understand what was happening in my body, never mind how to treat it, I decided to start researching paths of healing.  By reading various articles, technical journals and attending Catherine Seo’s Masterclass trainings on living with Lipedema (http://lipedema-simplified.org/), I saw positive changes for those who share my condition by switching to a Ketogenic way of eating and engage in Intermittent Fasting.

This revelation put me on a path to not only feeling better physically and mentally, but I actually started losing weight!  Yipee!!!  You can’t imagine my snoopy dancing the first month I lost eight (8) pounds and then another eight pounds the following month and now after 4 months I am down over 30 pounds!  I did this by choosing a keto way of eating  – eating real whole organic non-gmo foods outlined within a keto plan – and introducing intermittent fasting.  I try at least five days per week to eat within a 16/8 fasting model and it is producing results.

This past week I unintentionally ended up fasting for 36 hours.  I was surprised that I wasn’t hungry at all.  I did push water and electrolytes during the fast, which is important to maintain regular bodily functions. I waited a day to weigh myself, but could already feel the fat around my belly was lighter and looser.  Well, stepping on the scale surprised me – I had lost five (5) pounds in just 72 hours!  So, I am here as just single proof (n=1) that keto and (intermittent) fasting really does jump-start the autophagy process.

Maybe you will have the same success.  I would love to hear how intermittent fasting, fasting and/or a keto way of eating is helping you with your health needs, weight loss progress and loose skin.  Drop a line below and share your success story or even why it may have not worked for you.

Wishing you much success on your health journey!

To Your Improved Health!

 

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