Is Fasting akin to the Fountain of Youth?
According to Dr. Mindy Pelz…
Well, for starters, have you noticed that everyone around you is fasting? Curious what the craze is about and why so many people are giving up food?
The credit for much of the excitement needs to be given to one man: Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi.
In 2016, Dr. Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for discovering a self- repair mechanism in our body called autophagy. It turns out that when you put your body into a starvation state, the cells go looking for food… and they find that food by feasting on the toxins that are already inside the cell! It’s an incredible self-detoxification process that our bodies are naturally born with.
So how do you tap into autophagy and why are anti-aging experts looking at autophagy fasting as a way to slow down the aging process?
To understand why autophagy fasting is such a helpful anti-aging tool, it’s important to understand how your cells replicate. Your body is comprised of over 72 trillion cells; over 200 billion of those cells replicate every day. When your cells are sick and worn out, they will replicate more sick and worn out cells. Over time, as you stockpile more and more damaged cells, you will age more quickly.
But what if there was a way to repair these damaged cells and make them healthy and new again?
That’s where autophagy fasting comes in. It’s your body’s own internal cellular repair process. Autophagy takes old, worn out cells, cleans them up and makes them young and healthy again. Pretty cool, right?
But here’s the trick: in order to tap into this self-repair process, you are going to have to make some changes to what you eat and when you eat. In the beginning, these changes may be uncomfortable and, worse yet, you may not see the immediate results we all crave. But if you stick with these changes, you will begin to notice your body taking on a more youthful glow.
This is why so many people are excited about autophagy fasting.
If you want to reap the benefits of autophagy fasting, here are the key steps you need to incorporate:
1. Start fasting
There are two types of fasting that have been getting a lot of attention for stimulating autophagy: intermittent fasting and dry fasting.
Intermittent Fasting. Dr. Ohsumi’s research on autophagy used a fasting period of 13-15 hours. When you don’t eat for 13-15 hours, your cells start looking for food inside the cell. This is the time period needed to initiate autophagy.
In her book on autophagy, Glow 15, Naomi Whittel says that 16 hours is the sweet spot to get your cells to detox.
Dry Fasting. There is a lot of buzz in the fasting world about the accelerated autophagy benefits of dry fasting (meaning no food or water) compared to water fasting, reportedly up to three times the benefits. If you are curious about how you do a dry fast, check out my YouTube video on dry fasting.
But I’m a science gal so I don’t blindly believe the hearsay. I want to see the research that proves it! So I went digging to see if there’s some truth to this “accelerated autophagy” claim. Turns out there are some great studies on dry fasting increasing BDNF (growth hormone for your brain), lowering inflammation, and stopping ghrelin (your hunger hormone). These are all wonderful healing mechanisms of dry fasting, but I could not find any evidence that dry fasting puts you in a deeper state of autophagy.
Having said all that, I will tell you that when my patients do a 24-hour fast, they often make it a dry fast because it’s easier and gets them in a deeper state of ketosis.
2. Lower your protein intake
We talk a lot about lowering carbs in the keto world, but rarely do you hear keto experts emphasize minimizing protein intake.
From a blood sugar perspective, too much protein is equally capable of spiking your blood sugar as too many carbs. For my patients wanting to get into ketosis, I recommend they keep their protein intake under 50 grams per day.
From an autophagy perspective, you are going to have to lower your protein even more. If you want to stimulate autophagy, you need to keep your protein intake under 20 grams. Your body can’t make its own protein, so lowering your protein levels forces your body to go find every existing protein you’ve already provided it. It will find it in the cells.
The bottom line? If you deprive your body of protein, it will enhance autophagy.
A note of caution: remember that diet variation is important to your overall health; staying low protein for too long can damage cells, too. Pick two to three days a week to go low protein to stimulate a deeper autophagy.
3. Fat first, carbs last
I’m sure you’re aware by now that fat is your friend. Turns out that good fats can stimulate autophagy because fat does not spike blood sugar. And when you keep your blood sugar low, your body continues to think it’s in a starvation state and will stay in autophagy.
For example, if you fast for 16 hours and then break the fast with an avocado, nut butter, or a bowl of olives, you keep the autophagy fasting benefits going.
Research is also showing that certain good fats like MCT oil and omega-3s promote a deeper autophagy. To this end, Naomi Whittel recommends you break your intermittent fast with green tea mixed with MCT oil.
4. Add in Powerphenols
Powerphenols are autophagy activating plants. Citrus bergamot is an example of a powerphenol that can upregulate autophagy. Dr. Elzbieta Janda, a molecular biologist at the University Magna Graecia who specializes in autophagy, says that bergamot has a high concentration of flavonoids specifically found in bitter citrus rinds. This particular flavonoid has a specific ability to activate autophagy.
If you’re anything like me, you’re already thinking, “Where do I get bergamot?” Turns out bergamot is the key ingredient in Earl Grey tea.