Autophagy – The Major Cleaning System of the Body

Autophagy – The Major Cleaning System of the Body

Cellular self-eating modulates immunity and the elimination of pathogens via autophagy. The body recognizes damaged cells and recycles them. Autophagy gets triggered in response to stress like infections, starvation, high exertion or certain compounds such as various phytochemicals. You can promote autophagy with positive stressors such as intermittent fasting, caloric restriction, regular sauna, exercise and cold exposure.

Introduction 

When there is no food available, a cell is forced to break down parts of its reserves to stay alive until the circumstances change. This natural biological process is called autophagy. Even on a day-to-day basis, autophagy is activated between meals to maintain metabolic functions and to supply amino acids and energy via catabolism. Autophagy (autophagocytosis) is a carefully regulated mechanism of “self-eating” that cells perform to destroy viral particles (virophagy) and to degrade some of their components including proteins, organelles and foreign particles (xenophagy). Autophagy is essential for life because it cleans the cells from unnecessary and dysfunctional components and recycles them for further use in the body.

Autophagy encompasses three main types: microautophagy, chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA) and macroautophagy. All of these are important and they work in cooperation inside the cells. Autophagy as a process is very strictly regulated and the whole machinery consists of at least 30 different genes.

Image: Schematic model of the three main types of autophagy.

Source: Ntsapi, C. & Du Toit, A. & Loos, B. (2019). Dietary impact on neuronal autophagy control and brain health. In: Bosch-Bouju, C. & Layé, S. & Pallet, V. (2019). Feed Your Mind -. How Does Nutrition Modulate Brain Function throughout Life? IntechOpen.

Autophagy is crucial also for brain plasticity and neuroprotection. Pathways between neurons and glial cells are thought to regulate autophagy in the brain. Different pathways shuttle cellular garbage from neurons to glial cells to maintain homeostasis in the brain. In practice, this means that the brain thrives with adequate autophagy processes throughout life. 

The central nervous system (CNS; including the brain) accommodates a diverse myeloid immune cell compartment that maintains its homeostasis. Autophagy and autophagy proteins play fundamental roles in myeloid cell-related immune functions. Activating autophagy constantly can also improve and even reverse age-related decline in cognitive functions such as memory loss.

The autophagy machinery supports primarily three aspects of myeloid cell immunobiology, thereby affecting the main components of the CNS immune system. These are clearance of pathogens in a cell-intrinsic manner, regulating proinflammatory cytokine production, and antigen processing for adaptive immune system stimulation. Myeloid cells include granulocytes and monocytes.

Image: Myeloid cells in the central nervous system.

Source: Herz, J. & Filiano, A. & Smith, A. & Yogev, N. & Kipnis, J. (2017). Myeloid cells in the central nervous system. Immunity 46 (6): 943–956.

Health benefits of balanced autophagy are for example:

Image: Interplay between autophagy, metabolism and aging.

Source: Wong, S. & Kumar, A. & Mills, J.  & Lapierre, L. (2020). Autophagy in aging and longevity. Human Genetics 139 (3): 277–290. 

Nutritional factors supporting autophagy

See a specific recipe on Autophagy Activator here.

Read more about the benefits of cold exposure and heat alteration on autophagy here and here.

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How do you support autophagy in your body? Tell us in the comments!

This article was an excerpt from our big and mighty forthcoming the Resilient Being Book.

 

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