As you're well aware, the low-carb lifestyle offers many incredible benefits. For the average dieter, the scientific processes that happen during activities like carbohydrate restriction and intermittent fasting might seem complex, but if you break them down, they're easier to understand and to appreciate. Autophagy is one of the those scientific mechanisms (1), defined as the process by which cells devour themselves. Learning the details of autophagy offers a new appreciation for low-carb dieting, and the benefits that result.
WHAT IS AUTOPHAGY?
Autophagy is the body's natural way of cleansing itself, removing unwanted toxins and buildup within the bloodstream. The term literally means "self-eating," as your cells produce membranes with one amazing task: to hunt down non-essential cells, including invading, disease-causing microorganisms, dead cell parts, or damaged proteins. These segments are successfully swarmed and removed, your body's way of eliminating invaders, using any beneficial parts within them, and creating entirely new molecules. These molecules also play an important role by building new, healthy cell parts (2).
Essentially, autophagy is a recycling system for the body. Through this process, even cancerous growths can be successfully stopped and removed before they have the potential to grow or take effect. Other diseases, such as diabetes, are also stopped in their tracks (3). Since so much material is discarded, not only is your health boosted naturally, but you can avoid a host of dangerous diseases that could cause permanent damage, decrease your health, and lower your lifespan (4). In addition to disease prevention, autophagy slows the aging process and boosts the immune system. Who wouldn't want that? The interesting part about autophagy is that you're entirely in control. Each of the processes below is an all-natural components of a low-carb diet that immediately kickstarts autophagy, so your cells quickly begin eliminating dangerous debris, reversing aging, reducing disease, and keeping your body healthy as a whole.
HOW TO KICKSTART AUTOPHAGY
When carbohydrates are reduced to low enough levels, the body has no choice but to burn fat for fuel. Restricting carbohydrates kicks autophagy into high gear, moving the process along faster (5). Many people consider ketosis an autophagy hack, as it automatically kickstarts the body's cellular processes. For keto dieters looking to live longer, healthier lives, this is incredible news. For autophagy to recycle the body's cells at a steady rate, maintaining a carb intake below 20 grams per day is important. Keep fat consumption high, carbohydrate consumption low, and let autophagy do its job.
Protein restriction is another way to kickstart autophagy, and, good news for dieters--it's incredibly easy. When the body doesn't have a significant protein source present, it starts searching elsewhere, which is when autophagy begins. Rather than resorting to muscle, the body gains natural protein by recycling its own cells. When you restrict protein intake, debris is naturally removed through the autophagy process, recycling the dangerous stuff inside your cells while still providing the body with the protein it needs. Without a dietary source of protein, autophagy is kicked into overdrive (6).
Keeping protein consumption low is easy; cheese, yogurt, and other dairy-heavy foods are high-fat and contain all of the protein you need. Other healthy, low-protein fats include avocados, butter, nuts, and olive oil. Keep these foods a steady part of your diet, and autophagy will always stay in high gear.
Intermittent Fasting activates and increases autophagy, keeping your cells healthier than ever (7). The intermittent fasting, or "IF" process works in three main ways, all boosting autophagy equally. When, how often, and how much you eat are the basis of IF, and on a low-carb diet, they keep your body in a healthy state of ketone creation while helping you losing more fat while boosting energy levels.
IF has two stages: feeding and fasting. These are simple to understand: when you're eating, your body is in the feeding state. When you're not eating, your body is in a fasting state. Practicing IF on a regular basis is what kickstarts autophagy and its many body-boosting benefits.
The three main ways to practice intermittent fasting include skipped meals, eating windows, and cleanses. When you skip a meal (any meal counts, so choose the one that's most convenient for you) your body is kicked into overdrive, and extra time is added for fasting.
Eating windows are a common way to fast, and occur when dieters create a set schedule to consume their meals. The most common time windows for fasting are between four and seven hours, so all eating must occur within that time frame. The remainder of the time, your body is in a fasting state. Cleanses are also common, and include skipping meals for a day or two. This entire time, your body remains in a fasting state, until you return to normal consumption.
Any of these IF methods are incredibly beneficial, so choose the one that makes you the most comfortable. If cleanses are too difficult or skipping a meal is just too much, a set window for eating (say, seven hours, between 12 and 8pm, just as an example) works just as well. Never restrict yourself too much, but choose the fasting/feeding combination that you can consistently maintain. In your fasting state, fat loss and energy increases occur because this is when the body breaks down extra fat, storing it as energy. Just like ketosis, the body uses this fat as energy rather than storing it away. With IF,you'll notice the powerful, body-boosting benefits fast...and that's in addition to the benefits that autophagy already provides!
(1) Mehrdad Alirezaei, Christopher C. Kemball, Claudia T. Flynn, et al. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010 Aug 16; 6(6): 702–710.Published online 2010 Aug 14. doi: 10.4161/auto.6.6.12376
(2) Noboru Mizushima,1,* Tamotsu Yoshimorim,2 and Beth Levine. Methods in Mammalian Autophagy Research. Cell. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 Aug 5.Published in final edited form as:Cell. 2010 Feb 5; 140(3): 313–326.doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.01.028
(3) Hye Seung Jung, and Myung-Shik Lee. Autophagy in Diabetes. Korean Diabetes J. 2009 Dec;33(6):453-457. https://synapse.koreamed.org/search.php?where=aview&id=10.4093/kdj.2009.33.6.453&code=0004KDJ&vmode=FULL. Published online December 31, 2009. Accessed Sep. 16th, 2018.
(4) Beth Levine and Guido Kroemer. Autophagy in the Pathogenesis of Disease. Science Direct: Cell Press Volume 132, Issue 1, 11 January 2008, Pages 27-42.
(5) LingXuab, Megumi Kanasakiad, Jianhua He, et al. Ketogenic essential amino acids replacement diet ameliorated hepatosteatosis with altering autophagy-associated molecules. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Basis of Disease Volume 1832, Issue 10, October 2013, Pages 1605-1612.
(6) Nazanin Asghari Hanjani and Mohammadreza Vafa. Protein Restriction, Epigenetic Diet, Intermittent Fasting as New Approaches for Preventing Age-associated Diseases. Int J Prev Med. 2018; 9: 58. Published online June 29th, 2018. doi: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_397_16
(7) Patrick C.Tapia. Sublethal mitochondrial stress with an attendant stoichiometric augmentation of reactive oxygen species may precipitate many of the beneficial alterations in cellular physiology produced by caloric restriction, intermittent fasting, exercise and dietary phytonutrients: “Mitohormesis” for health and vitality. 2005. Medical Hypotheses Volume 66, Issue 4, 2006, Pages 832-843