Autophagy is a word, and a concept, that very few people have even heard of (outside of a relatively small cohort of interested people). And yet, it is the one thing that your body does in a fasted state which will add years of life to you.
Autophagy comes from the Greek words auto (self) and phagia (eat) – so, autophagy means literally “self eat”. It is the process that body undertakes to catabolise (use, process, eat) proteins and cellular matter. It happens all of the time in some form – your body is always nibbling away at itself somewhere, but in the prolonged absence of food, autophagy is increased significantly.
“Why is that a good thing?” This is a very good question.
Think of the swimming pool creepy crawly cleaner. That blue vacuum cleaner that goes around your pool, sweeping up the leaves, and leaves you with a clean pool every day. That (very) crude analogy is what may helpful to explain what autophagy does, over a long period of time.
In the presence of constant food intake every few hours (which is another way of saying the way everybody eats in the Western world), the body is never under any kind of considerable hunger stress.
In this age of abundant food, which is actually the first time that humans have had such abundance in food in our entire 150,000 species history, our bodies very rarely know what it is like to be truly hungry. This is in complete opposition to our natural biology, which would have experienced hunger as a normal and routine aspect of life over the vast majority of our evolution.
The body has mechanisms to ensure its survival in the absence of food. Life wants to live. Life fights to live. In the absence of food, your body will look within itself and feed on not only its long-term fat stores, but it will also identify cellular elements within it which it deems unnecessary for long-term survival.
Things like extraneous proteins, malfunctioning cells, diseases and viruses - all of the dead weight in the body that are not absolutely essential to survival are fair game for the body to eat, when food become short.
In the prolonged absence of food, the body therefore feeds on itself - this is a simple explanation of autophagy – “self eat”.
This concept of autophagy is so important to cutting-edge scientific research, that the 2016 Nobel Prize was awarded to research in this important field. We at Nysteia believe that autophagy is an extremely important mechanism that is activated during fasting, which over years and decades of time in a person’s life, results in a continual cleaning of the body of potentially dangerous malfunctioning cellular elements and viruses.
It is a fact that the rate that the body experiences autophagy increases with the absence of food. For a short period of time every day, this is a good thing, because the body naturally prioritises the things it wants to eat during autophagy, and is so biologically “intelligent”, it also knows what not to eat during this increase of autophagy.
For example, during autophagy the body does not eat 1% simultaneously of its total mass across all organs and cells. The body is biologically intelligent, and jealously preserves its crucial structures - such as the heart, brain, and essential organs - because these are absolutely vital to survival.
Whilst jealously preserving these crucial structures, the body ruthlessly catabolises unnecessary cellular structures and viruses (in other words, eats them) and uses them for energy. This process really only happens in a big way in the absence of food, and happens only minimally in a constantly fed body.
We maintain that a world of malfunctioning constant eating habits has all but suppressed this life prolonging mechanism within the body, and as a consequence, the body becomes lazy and apathetic in the presence of malfunctioning conditions within it which are allowed to grow and cause illness. These malfunctioning conditions would invariably have been eaten by a body which is daily tuned to a few hours of increased autophagy.
Many diseases are caused by natural proteins within the body turning rogue, and attacking the body’s essential organs.
An example of such a disease is Dementia. Every human brain contains a protein within it called the Tau protein. In people with dementia, this Tau protein goes out of control, attacks the neurons, causes them to dramatically change their shape, and thus interrupts the synaptic electric transmissions within the brain - the end result is catastrophic failure of the function of the brain, primarily due to the effects of this rogue protein.
An excessive amount of Tau protein is completely unnecessary to the survival of the body. Having a daily eating routine, which allows the increased activation of autophagy, gives the human body a much higher chance of eliminating the catastrophic effects of these malfunctioning processes, via the catabolism of unnecessary proteins.
Just like obesity does not happen in a day, so too will the benefits of autophagy not manifest themselves in a day. In a sensibly fasted body - over weeks, months, years, and decades - the constant biological cleansing actions of autophagy will yield tremendous benefits in the prevention of diseases, thereby giving you the great chance to live significantly longer than you otherwise might have.
The philosophy of Nysteia does not extend to extremely lengthy multi-day fasts, which may push the perfectly healthy expression of autophagy past the point of usefulness to life extension, and into the realm of starvation.