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Autophagy: Your Body’s Natural Recycling System

Discover what is autophagy, how it benefits your health and how to induce it.
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In other words, autophagy is your body's natural recycling system. It helps auto-eliminate cellular toxins that can't be used or dealt with. There are a lot of benefits and informations to know about autophagy. By reading this article, you will also learn a few tricks to optimize your autophagy triggering.

Written by
Jill Lebofsky
15+yr Women's Wellness Expert, Holistic Menopause Support, Intermittent Fasting, Midlife, Essential Oil, Author, Speaker

Most people start intermittent fasting for the weight-loss benefits and stick with it for all the disease-fighting and anti-aging benefits. 

Our bodies were perfectly created to support us and run smoothly.  But life gets in the way. Every day – through the air we breathe, the things we touch, and what we ingest – our bodies are exposed to low-level toxins. Daily use of products containing chemicals and exposure to environmental toxins create a negative situation. Our bodies can’t process these foreign invaders to get rid of them, so they make themselves at home inside our cells, usually the fat cells. Communication between the cells starts to break down, leading to problems with hormones, obesity, inflammation, disease, and even death.

In addition, our body creates metabolic toxins (body toxins) left over from different processes the body goes through, which must also be eliminated. 

Luckily, the body has a built-in plan to combat cellular damage. It is called AUTOPHAGY (o-TAW-fuh-jee).

What is Autophagy ?

The term “autophagy” was coined in the early 1960s. Still, it wasn’t until 2016, when Japanese biologist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, won a Nobel Prize for his discoveries and research on the mechanisms underlying autophagy, that the topic gained greater attention. 

Breaking down the word, “auto” means “self” and “phage” means “eat.” The basic idea is that in the absence of being fed, the body begins to eat itself. The process of autophagy is thought to have evolved as a stress response to protect people against famine. Cells developed a way to stay alive during extreme conditions by digesting their own components.(1)

Autophagy is often referred to as the cellular recycling system. The word recycle means “to treat or process used or waste materials so as to make them suitable for reuse.” (2) That is exactly what our bodies do to keep us healthy and happy. When one refrains from eating and drinking (i.e., “fasting”), the cells get starved, and autophagy is triggered.(3)

Our cells are made up of different components. When autophagy begins, a membrane is formed around the damaged parts of the cell, forming another simple structure called an organelle. This organelle eventually binds to a structure that is responsible for breaking down the damaged cell parts into amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). These new “cleaned up” amino acids can be reused as energy and for creating new proteins.(3,4)

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Benefits of Autophagy

The gains from this cellular cleaning are numerous. Autophagy decreases your risk for disease, promotes heart health, and reduces inflammation. It supports gut and skin health. Autophagy also slows down the aging process, increases your longevity, and may prevent cancer and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. These are just some of the bonus gifts you receive when you commit to an intermittent fasting lifestyle.

How long do you need to fast to trigger Autophagy ?

There is no agreement on the exact amount of time one needs to fast for autophagy to start working. Some say that around the 12 to 13-hour mark, signs of autophagy begin to appear.(5) One study showed increased markers of autophagy after fasting for around 18 hours.(6) Research with mice showed evidence of autophagy after 24 hours of fasting, peaking at around 48 hours.(7

One should not fast just to get into autophagy.  But know that the longer you stay in fasted mode, the more benefits you will reap. This is an added incentive to not cut short your daily fast.

Other ways to induce Autophagy 


Woman doing cardio to induce autophagy.

Moderate activity, including a mix of cardio, resistance training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), for about 30 minutes, will help to activate autophagy. Exercise, like fasting, creates a healthy form of stress upon the body. Exercise-induced autophagy may also slow down cognitive decline, keeping your mind sharp and clear.(8) Note that excessive or prolonged exercise can negate some of the benefits of autophagy, so more is not always better.


Healthy food that can trigger autophagy.

Certain foods are believed to induce autophagy such as coffee, green tea, 70%+ dark chocolate, blueberries, turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, pomegranate, and red grapes. These foods should only be eaten during your feasting time.(9)


Woman sleeping to induce autophagy.

Optimize autophagy with a good night’s rest of 7-8 hours each day. If sleep is an issue, supplement with Melatonin, a hormone that helps maintain your body’s natural sleep rhythm and plays an essential role in regulating autophagy.(10)

As we age, our body’s ability to reach the stage of autophagy diminishes. Autophagy keeps us looking and feeling young. Intermittent fasting, exercise, the right food, and sleep are all vital elements not only for healthy living and for triggering autophagy, ensuring cell survival, and living a long, vibrant life.

Read more about autophagy here.

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