In 2016, the Japanese microbiologist Yoshinori Ohsumi got the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Scientists around the world appreciated his contribution to the study of the molecular mechanisms of induction, flow, and regulation of autophagy, and understanding of its significance for the future. So what is autophagy? Why is it needed, and is it true that if improved, a person’s life can be extended?
Autophagy: definition, varieties, meaning
Autophagy (self-eating) is part of the life of any normal cell. This term refers to the process of garbage collection inside the cell – the destruction of macromolecules, damaged components, old organelles, misfolded proteins, and other unwanted compounds. The process of destruction occurs in the structural parts of the cell, which are called lysosomes. Cleavage requires an acidic environment and lysosomal enzymes (hydrolases).
Violation of the process and functioning of the autophagy apparatus leads to:
- heart failure;
- primary lesions of muscle fibers – myopathies;
- progressive death of nerve cells – neurodegenerative diseases of Alzheimer, Parkinson, Huntington;
- accelerate the course of oncology;
- premature aging.
The natural decline in autophagy in old age is thought to be responsible for the development of age-related sarcopenia, a progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength.
However, the process of autography also occurs at a time when cells are deficient in nutrients. In case of lack of energy and hunger, the cell sacrifices part of its intact macromolecules and organelles to obtain monomeric elements and micromolecules, from which new substances necessary for the body will be produced: proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, components of enzymes and hormonal substances.
But excessive autophagy inevitably leads to cell death. Therefore, today this process is also considered a kind of programmed cell death. Yoshinori Ohsumi received the Nobel Prize for proving the programmability of autophagy in the genome code using 30 ATG genes, most of which he discovered. He also created the theory that if you mutate or disable these genes, then it is possible to avoid programmed cell death.
How to improve autophagy on your own
Increased autophagy can improve metabolism and brain function, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and the development of diseases listed above. Here are the activities, the regular implementation of which will allow you to do this.
Go to bed and wake up with the sun – go to sleep at 21:00 and wake up at dawn. The intensification of the autophagy process occurs at night when a person is resting.
Change your sleep schedule gradually. Regularly do the following:
- obligatory early rises at dawn depending on the season;
- wearing special glasses that block blue light while working at a computer;
- a gradual shift in the time of going to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual 1 time in 2-3 days;
- before going to bed – take melatonin, inositol, or other drugs for sleep, refusing to watch TV shows/news/blogs.
- take relaxing (warm) water treatments, aromatherapy, a set of cool-down exercises and diaphragmatic breathing exercises, auto-training, meditation;
- observance of sleep hygiene – silence, no blue light, ventilated bedroom, and fresh air supply, orthopedic mattress, and pillow.
If it’s hard to fall asleep in silence, use an hour-long recording of nature sounds or relaxing music that turns itself off.
You can maximize autophagy, while getting rid of fat accumulations and not losing muscle mass, and even increasing it:
- Intermittent fasting – limit food intake in the daily window from 12 to 8 hours.
- Do not eat/snack more than 1 time in 3 hours.
- Enrich your diet with fruits and vegetables rich in polyphenols and carotenoids.
- Include these supplements: Omega-3, vitamin D, and coenzyme Q10.
- Eat a sufficient amount of spermidine-containing foods daily: wheat germ, aged cheeses, cheeses with mold, beans, peanuts, soy products, green peas, pine nuts, mushrooms, leafy salads, spicy greens, grapefruit, grapes, green apples, and potato.
- Stimulate autophagy with a polyphenol compound, resveratrol. This substance is found in the root of the Japanese mountaineer, the skin of red grapes and dry wines from it, berries and leaves of blueberries, and peanuts. The anti-aging effect of resveratrol is achieved by activating the enzyme sirtuin-1. It increases cellular lifespan, improves cognitive functions of the brain, and enhances the action of insulin, helping to more efficiently utilize glucose from the blood.
- Control the amount of consumption of simple carbohydrates and added sugar, and monitor the time of intake of foods and drinks containing complex carbohydrates and starches.
- Take dinner 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Be sure to have breakfast, and during the day snack on sports bars, fitness cookies, protein pancakes and puddings, and granola.
- Drink enough pure water.
It has been proven that autophagy can be intensified if you regularly, at least 2–3 times a week, perform aerobic exercises. Their intensity should be in the range of 50-70% VO2 max, and the duration should be more than 60 minutes. For this, fast walking, jogging, Nordic walking, cardio work, aerobics, dancing, and swimming are suitable.
During such an aerobic cardio workout, do not forget to drink water, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc., and after the end, be sure to support your muscles and body with a snack on a protein bar and a shake.
To activate autophagy, you need to practice intermittent fasting and fasting days. However, such eating behavior is contraindicated in:
- psychogenic overeating;
- diabetes mellitus of any type;
- diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and digestive organs;
- pregnancy, lactation.
It is also worth giving up hungry days for athletes who are in a period of intensive preparation for or during competitions.
You can replace hungry days by limiting the daily calorie content of the menu to 500–600 kcal.
Over to you
The mechanisms of autophagy are not yet fully understood by medical scientists. Research into the regulation of autophagy continues in a number of large research laboratories. Surely in the near future, new structures will be discovered that regulate this process, and medical scientists will develop drugs that can slow down or accelerate it, depending on the state of health and age, thereby treating diseases and/or prolonging life.
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