In 2016, Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine for his research of autophagy in yeast. The study found that short periods of fasting have a positive impact on cell renewal and help slow down the aging process.
Bright Side found out what Yoshinori’s study is all about.
1. Can cells “eat themselves?”
Yes, they can. The process of utilization and renewal of unnecessary parts of the cells is called autophagy. The term that gave the name to the process is formed by 2 Greek words; together they mean “self-eating.” Autophagy helps both the cells and the body to get rid of unnecessary organelles — dead or damaged cells. End-of-life cells would be used for building new ones in the future.
Such a feature of the cells was discovered 60 years ago. But only recently, while studying autophagy in yeast, Yoshinori Ohsumi managed to identify the set of genes responsible for it. It turned out that such genes could be found in many living organisms, including humans.
2. What are the benefits of “self-eating?”
Autophagy is responsible for the renewal of the body, combatting infections, and the drainage of toxins. The irregularities in the autophagy process are connected with various diseases including cancer, type II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. It is known that an infected cell tries to “digest” bacteria using the same mechanisms and proteins that are usually used for cell renewal.
If we managed to influence the autophagy process in cancer cells, we could make the body think of them as of damaged ones and destroy them with its own effort without chemotherapy. It wouldn’t hurt to boost cell renewal among the elderly and try to slow down the aging process.
3. How does fasting affect the “self-eating” of the cell?
During fasting, the blood glucose levels drop, and therefore, the production of insulin that delivers glucose to body tissues slows down. For the human body, it means that the nutrient supply stops and it has to go into survival mode, meaning that glucagon production begins, the key function of which is the stimulation of autophagy.
It’s the defensive reaction of the body based on the use of end-of-life cells to get the nutrient supply from the inside.
4. Did we know about it before?
The positive effects of fasting have always been known. The Bible describes the 40-day fasting of Jesus and Moses. In Persia, people had to refuse food for 50 days, while modern Islam puts restrictions on consuming food during the holy month of Ramadan.
Herodotus wrote that the Egyptians used to fast for 3 days every month for a systematic health recovery. Socrates, Plato, Byron, Voltaire, Linnaeus, Milton, Newton, Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy — they all fasted on a regular basis.
5. Does fasting lead to the loss of muscle mass and a slow metabolic rate?
In fact, long periods of fasting could slow down the metabolic rate. In the case of 12-72 hours of fasting, the metabolic rate actually increases. It’s connected to the release of the stress hormone noradrenaline responsible for the feeling of hunger.
The same rule applies to the loss of muscle mass. Research claims that short-term fasting leads to a high level of the growth hormone that brings energy from fat tissue. Its other functions are anabolic and anti-catabolic, meaning they prevent the destruction of muscle mass.
6. What’s the right way to fast?
You should be careful. Do it only after you speak with your doctor. On average, you need 8-12 hours to burn all the carbs consumed during the day and preserved in the form of glycogen. Only after this, the autophagy process begins. It means that proper fasting should be no less than 12 hours.
3-day fasting could significantly harm your health. During this time, the cells don’t get necessary microelements that can lead to the weakening of the immune system and the improper work of the internal organs.
7. Which diets include short-term fasting?
The most famous diet is called “5/2.” This diet was invented by British journalist Michael Mosley. In 2012, a movie that was devoted to the research of calorie restrictors was released. As part of the diet, you eat regular food for 5 days a week but for 2 days, you should lower the calorie intake to 500 kcal for women and 600 kcal for men. This amount should be consumed in 2 separate meals.
Martin Berkhan, a journalist, fitness trainer, and bodybuilder, offered an alternative diet called “16/8” where you have to fast for 16 hours and work out on an empty stomach several times a week. Ori Hofmekler follows the same dieting routine in his “20/4” diet where a person has only 4 hours to consume food. The rest of the day you can drink fresh juice and eat nuts and dried fruits.
What do you think about fasting? Could we consider autophagy a universal lifesaver?
Please keep in mind the importance of consulting with a doctor before beginning any diet. Under no circumstances would we urge you to use any of the methods described above without consulting with a professional beforehand. This information was provided for informational purposes only.Иллюстратор Mariya Zavolokina for Bright Side