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What Is Autophagy?

Now and then, we always feel the need to take the time to rid ourselves of toxins and other free radicals that have accumulated in our bodies over time. Yes, we take time to readjust our diet system, use juice cleansers, or try out other measures of detoxification to be cleansed of unwanted harmful materials in the body.

Well, apart from the measures you consciously take in trying to detoxify yourself, the body has an in-built mechanism that is responsible for cleansing itself. Yes, the process that the body undergoes in the self-removal of toxic wastes and other unwanted substances is known as Autophagy.

Autophagy, as a term, is coined from the Greek word “autophagocytosis,” which means ‘self-devouring.’ It is a process that involves a cellular activity of removing dysfunctional, dead, diseased, and worn-out cell components to give room for the creation of new cell parts or materials.

According to Colin Champ, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center, it could be viewed as the body’s innate recycling program. 

Autophagy is highly essential because, over time, the body’s cells, by default, accumulate various unwanted substances such as dead organelles, oxidized particles, and damaged proteins that interfere with the regular activities of the body. The resultant effect of the presence of these free radicals in the body is mostly accelerated aging. 

How does Autophagy work?

This innate biological activity has been explained in different perspectives for it to be easily understood. For instance, in an episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast, an analogy was employed to explain how Autophagy works adequately.

The body is likened to a kitchen, which is thoroughly cleaned up after a meal is prepared, leaving the kitchen as clean as it once was before cooking activities took place. This simple analogy is exactly how the process of Autophagy works. 

Now, let’s look at the same analogy, but in a different way. After you are done preparing a meal, you leave some remnants on the counter, some are thrown into the garbage, and some are not the leftovers, and other food particles remain on the trash, recycle bin, and counter. They aren’t cleared off and taken out to the dumpster, and the wastes start accumulating in the kitchen, which eventually leads to the decay and awful smells of food wastes.

This other scenario can be likened to the severe health risks that the body may be prone to if the process of Autophagy is not working the proper way that it should. Autophagy is quite effective in slowing down the aging process, lessening inflammation, and in the optimization of the overall health and performance of the body.

Furthermore, Autophagy carries out its activity to also improve the immune system to lessen the risk of contracting infectious diseases, and it also ensures the body’s regular activities are not disrupted by unwanted and substances or materials. 

Functions of Autophagy

Xenophagy: This process in microbiology, involves the autophagic deterioration of cellular and infectious substances. This process eventually leads to the neutralization and destruction of harmful micro-organisms and infected cells. 

Homeostasis: Autophagy is also a process that automatically leads the body to reach its normal optimal performance. In order words, it resets the body to the state of equilibrium. Just like the analogy earlier mentioned, the kitchen (which is the body) after a meal is prepared, is cleaned up and returned to the exact clean state it was met.

Repair mechanism: The process of Autophagy makes it possible for the body to heal itself. After free radicals such as damaged organelles, proteins, cell membranes, and other unwanted materials are taken care of, and new cells are created, the body now reaches an optimal state fixing any damage that must have affected some parts of the body.

Aids cellular stress: Autophagy is a process that also responds to cellular stress. It controls the occurrence of activities in the body during nutrient deprivation and cellular stress.

Aids pregnancy: Yes, Autophagy is also useful to pregnant women. It plays a significant function in sustaining a crucial equilibrium or balance of the levels and sources of energy in the body.

Health benefits of Autophagy

Lowers the risk of neurodegenerative diseases: Most neurodegenerative diseases that people suffer are a result of the accumulation of inclusion bodies and proteins.

However, these aggregates present in neurons lead to toxic effects, oxidative stress, and the overproduction of reactive oxygen species.

Autography is a powerful process for maintaining mitochondrial homeostasis and removing such proteins. It is a significant intracellular mechanism that eliminates misfolded proteins and damaged organelles.

For instance, in Parkinson’s disease, autography removes a-synuclein, and in Alzheimer’s disease, Autophagy removes amyloid.

Autophagy lowers the risk of neurodegenerative diseases by helping cells clean up proteins that are not functional in the body so that they do not accumulate.

Combat infectious diseases: A lot of evidence has shown Autophagy to be very beneficial to people with infectious diseases. It functions as an intracellular defense pathway in response to infections with a variety of viruses and bacteria.

More so, Autophagy works as an immunologic effector and helps in the regulation of innate immunity to exert antimicrobial defense mechanisms. Autophagy essentially removes toxins created by infections.

Improves muscle performance: You are likely to inflame your muscles or create microtears during exercise sessions. Thus, your muscles will require repair.

Autophagy aids the muscle cells to reduce the energy required to use the muscle, improve the balance of energy to reduce the risk of future damage, and remove damaged components in the muscle.

Prevents the onset of cancer: Autophagy completely removes damaged proteins in the body that can contribute to the formation of tumors. It suppresses the progression of tumor growth.

Moreover, Autophagy also reduces tumorigenesis by inhibiting the survival of cancer cells and inducing the death of that cell.

Aids metabolism in the body: Autophagy plays an essential role when it comes to the maintenance of cellular nutrient balance. It also aids the organelles in the body to function correctly, and this is important for the body’s metabolism.

More so, Autophagy also removes toxic products from the body and replaces cell parts. It helps the body cells to work more efficiently to make healthy proteins for the body for better metabolism.

Improves the digestive system: Do you know the cells in your gastrointestinal tract do a lot of work? That said, do you also know that a large part of your feces is your cells? As a result of that, your digestive cells need to be active to function properly.

Autophagy helps the digestive cells to clear themselves of junk, reduce or activate the immune system, and even repair and restore themselves. However, a chronic response in your gut could inflame and overwhelm your bowels. Therefore, it is necessary to activate Autophagy to heal your gut.

Minimizes apoptosis (cell death): Apoptosis is simply defined as a form of programmed cell death that occurs in multicellular organisms. Autophagy helps to increase the threshold of stress that is needed for the induction of cell death by various mechanisms.

These include the removal of damaged zymogen granules in the exocrine pancreas or the removal of damaged, potentially-inducing mitochondria. Furthermore, Autophagy also aids the elimination of signal transducers that are pro-apoptotic.

Quells chronic inflammation: When you suffer from chronic inflammation, your body’s inflammatory response will likely begin to damage healthy organs, tissues, and cells. The scary thing about this is that over time, this can lead to internal scarring, tissue death, and DNA damage.

Autophagy can help to reduce chronic inflammation by influencing the development, survival, and homeostasis of inflammatory cells.

However, Autophagy also controls inflammation through the regulatory interactions with your innate immune signaling pathways. It does this by removing endogenous inflammasome agonists.

Fights autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune diseases occur as a result of a breach in the peripheral and central tolerance. This disease causes your immune system to attack your body mistakenly.

Thus, your immune system mistakes some parts of your body as foreign and begins to release proteins known as autoantibodies to attack healthy cells.

Autophagy as a central player in the immunological control of pathogen clearance helps to deliver antigens in your body to major histocompatibility complex compartments.

It also helps to mediate cytokine production and regulate lymphocyte survival homeostasis, which could reduce autoimmune diseases to the barest minimum.

Promotes healthy aging: Research has shown that Autophagy helps to extend lifespan and slow down the aging process dramatically.

Autophagy improves cellular health. Cells that undergo Autophagy do not take in new nutrients. They rather recycle the damaged parts of them, remove toxic materials and fix themselves up.

However, when the cells in your body repair themselves, they behave like younger cells and work better.

In essence, Autophagy makes it possible for the body to repair itself naturally. This could help to improve the quality and length of your life.

More so, the survival of cellular organisms depends on the process of Autophagy. It ensures all manner of redundancies in the body are eliminated and makes the body anew. 

Final thoughts

In summary, Autophagy is quite an essential activity that takes place in the body. It is the body’s way of resetting itself and starting again with a clean slate!  

 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670399/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2832126/

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-44005092

https://www.healthline.com/health/autophagy

https://www.dietdoctor.com/renew-body-fasting-autophagy

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