Posted 10 months ago by -Dr. O'Connor-Wray

My Quest For Health Part I

Ever heard of autophagy? Did you know your body can do this? 

Tired of feeling tired? Not being able to focus. Unable to lose weight? Or have you made yourself unhealthy on your road to weight loss? Paid thousands of dollars for bariatric surgery to decrease the size of your stomach? Lost weight too rapidly and now dealing with lots of loose sagging skin? There is science and research to help with all of these issues!

In the endless debates over what-to-eat and what-not-to-eat, consideration of when to eat too often gets overlooked. This is unfortunate - research shows pretty convincingly that timing our meals intelligently can produce remarkable health benefits.

I’m referring specifically to fasting, defined loosely as the practice of abstaining from food for periods of 12 hours or more. Intermittent (IF) - the practice of regularly reducing calorie intake to zero for periods of 12-24 hours continues to gain popularity because of noted improvements in cognitive function and/or body composition. Recently, in my own quest for health, I’ve been diving into newer research highlighting the mechanisms behind the benefits of fasting. 

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology Or Medicine went to a Japanese scientist by the name of Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of the mechanisms behind AUTOPHAGY, a cellular maintenance process - stimulated by fasting - that is critical in disease resistance, longevity and general body and brain vitality.

To vastly (but not inaccurately) oversimplify: healthy cells are actively autophagic, unhealthy cells are not.

So, what is autophagy? It is still relatively unheard of outside the biochemistry/cell biology/endocrinology worlds. Those that know me well know my love of endocrinology!! My hope is that it will receive increasing attention in the health and nutrition arena over the next few years. Autophagy is the process by which cells degrade and then recycle unneeded or dysfunctional proteins and organelles (via lysosomes). If allowed to accumulate, dysfunctional proteins and organelles eventually lead to dysfunctional cells that either die, persist as dysfunctional cells (contributing to poor tissue/organ function) or become cancerous. Needless to say, all of these outcomes are in opposition to a youthful, vibrant, high-performing body and brain.

In the brain, upregulation of autophagy is strongly neuroprotective while disruption of autophagy causes neurodegeneration. In the liver, upregulation of autophagy increases lipolysis (fat usage) and insulin sensitivity, while disruption of autophagy leads to prediabetes and metabolic syndrome. The list goes on, but I think you get the point: autophagy is important.

Today let’s look at sagging skin! What is the relationship between autophagy and loose skin? Here’s what the science says about it. In 2014 a study from Kyushu University in Japan found that aging fibroblasts suffer from a decrease in autophagy. You can imagine these aging fibroblast cells slowly getting clogged with broken parts and waste, grinding their collagen product to a halt.

The researchers concluded that this slowing down of autophagy “leads to deterioration of dermal integrity and skin fragility.”An even more enlightening study on the relationship between autophagy and loose skin came from St. Mary’s College of Medicine which found that “Aging accompanies an increase in intra-cellular stress and has significant impact on the skin. Since dermal fibroblasts are a powerful indicator of skin aging, we compared the autophagic activity of human skin fibroblasts between the young and old…” What they found was that aging fibroblasts experienced “a higher speed and amount of waste production”. So, fibroblasts cannot keep up with this increase in cellular waste, “resulting in skin aging.” The most important finding from this study. The researchers said that “autophagy plays a crucial role in counteracting aging, and strategies aimed at its modulation should hold promise for the prevention of skin aging.”

So let’s connect the dots here between autophagy and loose skin.

1. Fibroblasts create collagen in the skin. Collagen keeps skin looking young.

2. Autophagy lets cells recycle their parts and keep themselves “clean.”

3. Aging fibroblasts suffer from decreased autophagy and an increase in waste production.

4. This leads to skin aging, skin fragility, and dermal deterioration.

5. Autophagy counteracts aging could prevent skin aging.

So if autophagy combats loose skin and skin aging, the next question is: how do you increase autophagy?  


Stay tuned these next two weeks leading up to my 60 hour fast starting on April 14th - I will be posting the benefits of autophagy on all of our body systems!