Autophagy: A Nobel Prize Idea

October 24, 2016

Autophagy: A Nobel Prize Idea


 References: Nobel Prize 2016, Science Direct, Wikipedia,   

What on earth is autophagy? It's "eating oneself", and as morbid as that sounds, it is actually a critical function of cells. In effect, it is the processing of degraded and broken internal cellular components back into energy and basic building blocks. It's like you taking out your old washing machine to the curb to be picked up and taken to the crusher to be made back into a Ford Fiesta. 

 Autophagy is a key function of the brain, and imagine my surprise when I heard it mentioned on a TED talk. It is known to be a key component of Alzheimer's Disease. And disordered sleep is a cardinal symptom of Alzheimer's. Just what is happening when you sleep that makes autophagy happen? Lots of this science has come together in just the last few years. The discovery of the glymphatic system in the brain and its behavior during sleep is one of the most interesting advances. For those of us who thought that sleep was reorganizing memory and just resting, turns out it is a lot more interesting. What is now clear is that the entire brain flushes out the accumulated toxins of awake brain function. Every creature that has a neurological system, has to sleep. The biological advantage of a brain is weighed by the compelling need to pause and flush it out. Sleep is dangerous. Enemies can eat you while you are asleep, so whatever you are doing better be important. And what you are doing is autophagy. You are flushing out the accumulated gunk of consciousness. 

 We are currently in the midst of an epidemic of Alzheimer's Disease. 50% of us are getting it if we live to age 85, so this is no laughing matter. If we are to prevent it, we better get expert at methods of preventing it. Inducing autophagy is one of the best candidates for effective prevention. So, just how can you induce your own autophagy? How can you flush your brain better? 

Fasting. That's what does it. Turns out fasting is very powerful. It doesn't have to be all that long, just long enough to deplete glycogen in the liver. It's probably 12 hours for most of us. And that's just what Bredesen advises. In fact, Bredesen considers inducing autophagy as his second most important lifestyle function. His advice is that you induce it daily by not eating for 12 hours every day, including 3 hours before bedtime. 

I find it interesting that virtually every religious tradition throughout history considered fasting to be an important function of spiritual practice. Can you imagine they recognized that those who did it ended up wiser? 

 WWW.What Will Work for Me. I'm getting better at not snacking at night. I even look at the clock at around 7 and tell myself to chill out a bit. The next step is considering going for a 36 hour fast and skipping a whole day. That is likely even more powerful at inducing autophagy. In the journey of change, I'm in Contemplation. I'm dabbling with the idea and thinking about whether it will be too painful to really do. Or will it induce my brain to be sharper and clearer? How confident am I?   

 Pop Quiz

1.  Autophagy is basically eating yourself? T or F?          Answer:  Sounds gross. It's sort of accurate.   A better definition is the organized process of dismantling used cellular organelles, or even whole cells.   It is  critical at the cellular level. 

 ‪2. What do cells do when they consume themselves?             Answer:  Digest old internal organelles and turn them into energy or basic breakdown products for new proteins. Pieces like Golgi bodies, mitochondria, ribosomes, all the internal organs inside the cell that get old and used up. It's not only good for you, it's critically important for healthy cells. 

 3. What disease has autophagy as one of its prime components?                 Answer:   Alzheimer's 

 4. I can induce autophagy every day by........?                            Answer:   Not eating for 12 hours, including 3 hours before bedtime. I can get an even more potent spell of autophagy by fasting for a full day. ‪

5. Sleep is important to creatures with brains because.....? It's your brain on flush, washing out old gunk, markedly assisted by fasting a minimum of 12 hours.