How Are Autophagy and Intermittent Fasting Related? - Amandean

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February 04, 2022 7 min read

In this article:

  • How do you define fasting?
  • Fasting in different cultures
  • Fasting for physical health
  • What is autophagy?
  • How does intermittent fasting combine both?
  • How to trigger autophagy
  • How collagen supplement can support your fast

How Do You Define Fasting?

A basic definition of fasting is to voluntarily abstain from eating. Food is more readily available now than ever before in history – and in massive quantities. Vending machines, fast food drive-throughs, and food delivery services make it difficult to ignore cravings when they strike. Unfortunately, eating all day and in excess has undeniable, negative health consequences.

As obesity, cardiovascular disease, and conditions like type 2 diabetes have become more common, people are turning to intermittent fasting (IF), also called time-restricted eating. Returning to the ancient practice of fasting may be exactly what we need to restore balance to our out-of-control eating habits and achieve greater wellness.

Fasting in Different Cultures

Fasting benefits more than just physical health. For thousands of years and throughout the world, humans have fasted for spiritual reasons. Over time, people also saw evidence of fasting's physical and mental health benefits, such as increased energy and mental clarity.

Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Plato are among the famous Greek philosophers who recognized the value of fasting. Plutarch is noted for saying, "Instead of using medicine, rather, fast a day." 

As a spiritual pursuit, fasting is a time for reflection, remembrance, and spiritual focus. Religions with a tradition of fasting include Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and Hinduism.

Most religious traditions encourage regular fasting as a personal discipline. In addition, there are periods specifically designated for corporate (group) fasting. For example:

  • Lent: Many Christian traditions observe Lent for approximately 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. They may choose to give up certain food items and fast from meat on Fridays during this time.
  • Ramadan: In Islam, Ramadan is a holy month where fasting occurs from dawn to dusk.
  • Yom Kippur: Fasting is observed on several holy days in Judaism, but Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day of the year. This is a 25-hour period of fasting from all food and drink.

Fasting for Physical Health

Modern scientific research is proving what people have observed for millennia: fasting has numerous health benefits. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, ways fasting can help your body include:

  • Reduced free radical production
  • Weight loss
  • Adaptive cellular responses that improve glucose resistance, suppress inflammation, and increase stress resistance
  • Enhancing defenses against oxidative and metabolic stress
  • Triggering mechanisms that slow or reverse aging
  • Better physical function such as endurance, balance, and coordination
  • Cognitive improvements like better verbal memory, executive function, and working memory

Eating continually throughout the day can overload your body with calories (energy) and glucose (simple sugar). If you don't burn as much fuel as you're taking in, your body will store this extra energy as fat.

Unfortunately, if you follow the "standard American diet" (SAD) you'll inevitably consume excess calories, sugar, and processed foods. Over time, this can lead to inflammation, aging, and health conditions like cardiovascular disease.

Fasting helps your body process blood glucose, which lowers blood sugar levels. When glucose is depleted, your body will switch to fat-burning metabolic pathways. We'll talk more about that below.

Lowering blood glucose and burning fat result in weight loss and some of the other positive effects associated with fasting. Another beneficial process related to fasting is autophagy.

What is Autophagy?

Autophagy literally means self-eating; it supports homeostasis and the normal functioning of cells. Why would your body destroy its own cells? Well, cells and their components can become damaged over time. Debris and plaques can accumulate that must be broken down and disposed of.

Autophagosomes isolate damaged cytoplasmic components and deliver them to lysosomes, cell components containing digestive enzymes. Autophagy helps your body break down and dispose of misfolded proteins, dysfunctional cell organelles, and damaged cells.

Autophagy is the body's natural waste removal and recycling program. It regulates critical biological functions such as

  • cell survival
  • cell death (apoptosis)
  • cell metabolism
  • development
  • aging infection
  • immune system function

Autophagy is critical for healthy aging because the accumulation of misfolded proteins is a common hallmark of adult-onset neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Studies suggest that short-term food restriction (aka intermittent fasting) could help regulate autophagy resulting in better cognitive health and improved lifespan.

Dysfunctional mitochondria, cellular oxidative stress, and accumulation of proteins in neurons are all observed in patients with Parkinson's disease. It seems that the dysregulation of the autophagy pathway may lead to neurological diseases like Parkinson's. So, researchers continue to study how upregulating autophagy may be helpful in treating neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Read more about the benefits of autophagy and how collagen can assist your fasting efforts HERE.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Combine Both?

Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can directly trigger autophagy. Intermittent fasting is not necessarily about restricting whatyou eat, but when you eat. That being said, when you do eat, it's vital to consume wholesome foods full of vital nutrients and limit unhealthy foods.

IF divides the day into an eating window vs a fasting window. Popular forms of intermittent fasting include:

  • 5:2 or Fast Diet: five days of unrestricted eating and two days limited to 500-600 calories a day.
  • Alternate Day fasting or Eat-Stop-Eat:a 24-hour fast two times a week.
  • 16:8:one of the most popular forms of IF; fasting for sixteen hours and eating within an 8-hour window.
  • 20:4 or One Meal a Day (OMAD):eating all your calories within a four-hour window.

If you've never fasted before, a basic starting point is ensuring you have 12 hours of fasting every night: stop eating at 7 pm and don't eat until 7 am. So stay away from after-dinner snacking and make "breakfast" a true break from fasting.

Then, you can gradually increase fasting windows to 14:10, 16:8, and even 18:6 or beyond. You may reap greater benefits from an extended period of fasting. But, build up gradually and under medical supervision. Of course, you should speak with your physician before attempting any form of fasting, especially if you have any health conditions, concerns, or take medication.

Triggering Autophagy

Under normal healthy circumstances, autophagy is ongoing within your cells. However, studies suggest you can increase autophagy with calorie restriction, ketosis, exercise, and intermittent fasting.

Here's the timeline for autophagy under caloric restriction.

About 12 hours into fasting, when the body has used up available glucose, it will move into ketosis. In ketosis, your body breaks down fatty acids and forms ketones for fuel.

Ketosis can also be triggered by following a ketogenic diet. This limits carbohydrates to 50 grams per day with an overall diet composition of 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrate.

After 24 hours, autophagy should kick into a higher gear and studies suggest autophagy peaks around 48 hours. If 48 hours is simply unrealistic for your lifestyle, you can still benefit from shorter fasts.

  • One eight-week study showed that a 16:8 fasting regimen improved some health-related biomarkers, decreased fat mass, and maintained muscle mass in resistance-trained males.
  • Another intervention resulted in decreased fat mass and no change in athletic performance for male endurance athletes following a four-week 16:8 TRF schedule.

Since autophagy is dynamic and continuous, it's best measured with an autophagic flux assay, measuring autophagosomes and their fusion with the lysosome. However, the average person won't have access to this type of testing and should rely on best practices and monitoring how they feel throughout the fast.

How Collagen Supplements Can Support Your Fast

The good news is that supplements like collagen can support your fast without disrupting autophagy. Many believe that you can still retain the benefits of fasting with a limited calorie intake of 50-500 kcalper day.

Within this range, a pure collagen supplement stirred into black coffee, tea, or water certainly won't put you over the calorie limit. In addition, your body can benefit from a supply of essential amino acids which help promote healthy joints, digestion, and lean muscle mass. Another bonus is helping you feel satiated.

Two pure, nutrient-packed collagen choices are:

  • Marine Collagen: Amandean's premium, sustainably-sourced marine collagen contains 35 calories and 9 grams of protein per 10-gram scoop. The marine collagen peptides are non-GMO and sourced from 100% wild-caught fish.
  • Collagen Peptides: Amandean's grass-fed, non-GMO, natural collagen peptides are sourced from pasture-raised South American cattle. This unflavored, soluble hydrolyzed collagen powder contains 35 calories and 9 grams of protein per 10-gram scoop.

Visit the Amandean shop to explore the options for healthful collagen supplement support for intermittent fasting.

Summary Points

  • Over time, people have seen evidence of fasting's physical and mental health benefits, such as increased energy and mental clarity
  • If you don't burn as much fuel as you're taking in, your body will store this extra energy as fat
  • Fasting helps your body process blood glucose, which lowers blood sugar levels
  • Autophagy literally means self-eating; it supports homeostasis and the normal functioning of cells
  • Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can directly trigger autophagy
  • Studies suggest you can increase autophagy with calorie restriction, ketosis, exercise, and intermittent fasting
  • Supplements like collagen can support your fast without disrupting autophagy

Article References:

  1. Fasting Around the World. https://culturalawareness.com/fasting-around-the-world/
  2. Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Aging, Health, and Diseased. https://www.nejm.org/action/showPdf?articleTools=true&downloadfile=showPdf&doi=10.1056/NEJMra1905136&loaded=true
  3. Western pattern diet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_pattern_diet
  4. Therapeutic induction of autophagy to modulate neurodegenerative disease progression. https://www.nature.com/articles/aps2012189
  5. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
  6. Autophagy and misfolded proteins in neurodegeneration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3463804/
  7. The Role of Autophagy in Parkinson's Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312403/
  8. Measuring Autophagic Flux with LC3 protein levels: The do's and don'ts. https://www.novusbio.com/antibody-news/measuring-autophagic-flux-with-lc3-protein-levels-the-dos-and-donts
  9. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. https://translational-medicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12967-016-1044-0?__s=ovzgowspzgzjrjm83r95
  10. Four Weeks of 16/8 Time Restrictive Feeding in Endurance Trained Male Runners Decreases Fat Mass, without Affecting Exercise Performance. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/9/2941



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