The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year has been awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, “for his discoveries related to autophagy.” Ohsumi’s studies shed light on the process through which cells recycle their waste materials.
To elaborate, autophagy promotes cell renewal through the removal of damaged proteins in organelles (a tiny cellular structure that performs specific functions within a cell). “It is an act of self-cannibalism (by the cells), which detoxifies the system, and recycles the junk to give health and vitality,” says Dr Apratim Goel, dermatologist,Cutis Skin Studio, Bandra (W).
Maria Masucci, professor of virology, department of cell and molecular biology, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, further elaborates, “Autophagy regulates important functions of the cells. Therefore, the failure of autophagy is associated with cell ageing, and many old age diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes.”
According to experts, there are three major established ways to actively trigger the process of autophagy – diet, fasting and exercise.
“A high-protein diet suppresses autophagy. So, it is advisable to consume 1gm protein per kg of body weight per day,” says Dr Geeta Samant, general physician, SRV Hospital, Goregaon (W).
A low-carb diet is also recommended. When carbohydrates are reduced to extremely low levels, the body turns to fat as a fuel source. This helps one lose body fat efficiently, while retaining muscle density and improving brain function, immunity and lifespan.
You can follow a ‘keto’ diet, which is a low-carb and high-fat diet. In this diet, approximately 70% calories are gained from fat and the rest 30% from proteins. Overall, carbohydrate intake is kept below 50gms per day. This translates into generous helpings of cheese, peanut butter and red meat.
Ayurveda has already established the relation between cellular renewal and fasting. “The old vedic cure ‘starve the cold’ is now understood to be nothing more than a practice of activating autophagy to improve immunity and healing,” says Dr Goel.
Apparently, intermittent fasting (fasting and then feasting on purpose; similar to traditional practice of fasting during the month of Ramadan) stimulates autophagy by increasing body stress. Dr Samant highly recommends intermittent fasting for a duration of 12-16 hours twice every month.
The glamour world also has many takers when it comes to the fasting diet, especially male celebs — Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Jackman and Jimmy Kimmel — to name a few.
“When we exercise, our body is under stress. This helps to start autophagy. It is considered as one of the most natural and healthy ways to lose weight. The process generally starts after 30 minutes of exercising, and hits the plateau after 80 minutes,” says Luke Coutinho, nutritionist and founder of Pure Nutrition. He further adds, “This helps the body to clean itself and throw out the waste. That could be one reason why most of us feel fresh and rejuvenated after exercising.”
Benefits of autophagy
1. Helps in fighting infection
2. Helps in controlling inflammation
3. Boosts immunity
4. Prevents stress-induced diseases
5. Helps eliminate old cells
6. Delays ageing process
7. Detoxifies heavy toxins ingested through processed foods
8. Helps in weight loss
9. Accelerates recuperation
10. Increases resistance to infections
11. Boosts liver functions
12. Accelerates growth in young children
14. Reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
With inputs from Dhvani Shah, dietician, FIMS Clinic, Matunga.
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The author tweets @iamsusanjose