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What are the signs of autophagy?

Autophagy is stimulated by fasting. It has no clear signs but improves overall health and wellbeing.
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Autophagy is a vital recycling process. It is likely responsible for the anti-aging effects of fasting. For this reason, it is also known as the fountain of youth. There are no clear signs of autophagy, but it improves overall health and wellbeing. 

Written by
Sarah Neidler, PhD
Freelance Science and Medical Writer

Most people who are into intermittent fasting have heard of autophagy and its health benefits. In fact, many people with health issues start with intermittent fasting because they want to improve their health with the help of autophagy

Autophagy seems to increase with fasting length, but it’s hard to say when autophagy starts. It varies for each individual and depends on many factors such as age, fitness, underlying health conditions, and lifestyle. However, research suggests that 18 hours of fasting can profoundly stimulate this vital process in some people (1).

Because the exact timing of autophagy is uncertain, many people are looking for the signs of autophagy. So how do you know if this process has started already?

What is autophagy?

Autophagy is a greek term meaning self-eating. While this doesn’t sound healthy but rather counter-productive, it is an essential mechanism that is vital for our health.

Autophagy is a recycling mechanism that is stimulated by fasting. When no fresh nutrients are coming in, cells have to recycle old molecules.

When you eat regularly with only small breaks in between, autophagy runs at low levels (2).

You can compare autophagy to spring cleaning–it allows cells the opportunity to get rid of old molecules that are not needed anymore and that are in the way. However, as long as fresh molecules are continually coming in, the cell sees no need to recycle old ones. For this reason, the absence of nutrients, or fasting, is the most powerful autophagy inducer.

You can learn more about this in our article about fasting and autophagy.

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What are the signs of autophagy?

Blue and red street sign.

Intermittent fasting has many health benefits: it reduces insulin resistance and inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, and ameliorates gut health, to name a few (3).

Overall, it improves overall health and reduces the risk of contracting many conditions. In fact, many age-related conditions, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegeneration are associated with dysfunctional autophagy (4). Autophagy is also known to weaken with age (5).

Fasting can increase the lifespan of many animals, and there is more and more evidence that it has anti-aging effects in humans (6, 7). Autophagy is thought to be responsible for the anti-aging benefits of fasting. For this reason, autophagy is called the “fountain of youth”. 

Fasting improves overall health through multiple mechanisms. So most benefits cannot clearly be attributed to autophagy but go back to a combination of factors, such as ketosis and weight loss.

In general, autophagy shows its benefits over time. You won’t feel any different while your cells are undergoing autophagy. However, autophagy can have amazing long-term effects.

In our intermittent fasting community for women only, members regularly tell us about their non-scale victories (NSV)–improvements in their health and wellbeing that have nothing to do with the number displayed on the scale can be seen as signs of autophagy.

Most of these victories are very likely at least partially due to improved autophagy: 

  • Less pain (autophagy reduces inflammation and its related pain)
  • Improved fitness
  • Better sight
  • Better wound and scar healing
  • Improved skin health
  • Reduced loose skin when losing significant weight
  • Better mental wellbeing
  • Improved mental clarity

The bottom line

Intermittent fasting improves overall health by multiple mechanisms, one of which is autophagy. There are no clear signs of autophagy. It rather improves overall health, as well as physical and mental wellbeing.

Considering its anti-aging effects, this is not surprising. Autophagy is known as the fountain of youth for a good reason. It makes you feel younger, more energetic, and healthier.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of intermittent fasting, we invite you to join our intermittent fasting community for women only.


1. Jamshed H, Beyl RA, Della Manna DL, Yang ES, Ravussin E, Peterson CM. Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves 24-Hour Glucose Levels and Affects Markers of the Circadian Clock, Aging, and Autophagy in Humans. Nutrients. May 30 2019;11(6)doi:10.3390/nu11061234

2. Glick D, Barth S, Macleod KF. Autophagy: cellular and molecular mechanisms. J Pathol. May 2010;221(1):3-12. doi:10.1002/path.2697

3. Anton SD, Moehl K, Donahoo WT, et al. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity (Silver Spring). Feb 2018;26(2):254-268. doi:10.1002/oby.22065

4. Khandia R, Dadar M, Munjal A, et al. A Comprehensive Review of Autophagy and Its Various Roles in Infectious, Non-Infectious, and Lifestyle Diseases: Current Knowledge and Prospects for Disease Prevention, Novel Drug Design, and Therapy. Cells. Jul 3 2019;8(7)doi:10.3390/cells8070674

5. Barbosa MC, Grosso RA, Fader CM. Hallmarks of Aging: An Autophagic Perspective. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018;9:790. doi:10.3389/fendo.2018.00790

6. Mitchell SJ, Bernier M, Mattison JA, et al. Daily Fasting Improves Health and Survival in Male Mice Independent of Diet Composition and Calories. Cell Metab. Jan 8 2019;29(1):221-228 e3. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.08.011

7. Anton S, Leeuwenburgh C. Fasting or caloric restriction for healthy aging. Exp Gerontol. Oct 2013;48(10):1003-5. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2013.04.011

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