Autophagy 101: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Impacts Weight and Health


While autophagy is a process that occurs in the body naturally without our help, some scientists are researching whether strategies to induce autophagy may help with longevity, weight loss, and the prevention of certain chronic diseases. Autophagy may be induced through fasting, caloric restriction, a low-carbohydrate diet, and exercise.

Research into these benefits is still in very early stages, and more work needs to be done to better understand the impacts of autophagy on health.

Longevity

The ability of cells to carry out autophagy is believed to decline as we get older, which contributes to the aging process, according to a research review published in August 2021 in Nature Aging.

“As we age, the autophagy machinery starts to decrease in abundance and functionality,” Gottlieb explains. “It’s harder to turn it on, and it doesn’t work as well overall. So it’s been suggested that being able to restore that machinery or maintain autophagy throughout life would diminish the rate of aging or increase our health span.”

Some studies, such as one published in February 2022 in Autophagy, suggest that when the process is induced in animals, life span is extended and health is improved during aging. Whether or not this is true in humans remains to be seen.

Weight Loss

While there is no evidence that inducing autophagy directly increases weight loss, some research, such as an article in a 2019 issue of Frontiers in Pharmacology, suggests that it may have an effect on many of the hormones that control hunger, such as ghrelin, insulin, and glucagon, notes Everyday Health’s dietitian Kelly Kennedy, RDN.

“As a result, autophagy may decrease hunger and indirectly contribute to weight loss,” she says.

Methods meant to induce autophagy, such as caloric restriction, may also contribute to weight loss.

Chronic Disease Prevention

In addition to aging, research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in February 2019 found a link between dysregulation of autophagy and a number of chronic diseases. These include:

Scientists are researching whether the inducement of autophagy is a useful tool in preventing or treating these chronic diseases.



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