Autophagy is a Latin word that means “self-eating”. Since 2015, there have been some major leaps in understanding this extremely important process and how it is involved in chronic disease.
I want to explain it at a very simple level. If everybody in the neighborhood took their trash to the end of the street at the end of the day then went back into their house—they did this every day—all the neighbors in the neighborhood did that but the trash man never came. What would happen?
You’d have so much trash built up that the trash man couldn’t get down the street.
This happens in many disease states in all of the cells in our body. Now, from autism to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune illnesses, seizure disorders that tend to not respond to anticonvulsants. All these illnesses have an autophagy component.
Autophagy essentially helps the body clean up the cellular debris. And this is a little bit different than detoxification– a lot of times we think of peeing, pooping, also at the cellular level in the liver and the kidneys, those organs detoxify our blood in our urine. The liver and the kidneys help process the blood and basically all the blood in the body and that helps our body detoxify. But at the cellular level, if a person has broken off-switches for inflammation and they cannot dial the inflammation down, clean up their cells, and get rid of the cellular debris, we’ve got major problems.
In 2015, there were some special scans done of the brain. They’re called PET scans. We’ve been doing those for years but they were able to image cells in the brain called microglial cells. These cells have numerous receptors on them. Some of them are for turning on inflammation and some of them are for turning off inflammation. If you have broken off-switches for inflammation, the body is continuously kicking out these things called inflammatory cytokines. The body should be able to dial down that inflammation, but if it can’t, you make your body more vulnerable to inflammatory illnesses.
So we first need to get autophagy or self-eating to work. There are numerous ways to do this via medications and also supplementation. Autophagy is enhanced, for example, by curcumin, black pepper, green tea extract, Far infrared sauna, and short term fasting such as 12 to 15 or 18 hours.
That’s autophagy and it helps the body clean out the cellular debris and kick it out.