Have you ever heard about autophagy? Autophagy is the cellular version of spring cleaning. It’s a natural process in your body that helps to get rid of old, damaged, and dysfunctional cells and cellular parts. It recycles them, creating new and healthy cells to keep you healthy longer and extend your lifespan.

That sounds great, right? I bet you want some autophagy in your life now too. Out with the old and in with the new!  It turns out that taking out the cellular trash is critically important for your health.  In this article, we will delve deeper into the world of autophagy. We will explore the science behind it and potential benefits. Most importantly, I will offer some practical tips to activate your autophagy, clean up your body and enhance your health.


What Is Autophagy?

The term autophagy comes from two Greek words autos and phagomai. Autos means self and pahomai means to eat. Autophagy essentially refers to self-eating or self-devouring. And no, I’m not suggesting a weird form of cannibalism!  Autophagy is happening at the cellular level.  No teeth involved!

During autophagy, your body recycles and gets rid of any old, damaged, and excess cells that your body doesn’t need or that may harm your health. Instead, your body leaves room for the creation of new and healthy cells (1, 2, 3).

What Happens During Autophagy?

Your body’s main goal is to seek homeostasis, or optimal balance. For example, if we cut ourselves, we want our blood to be able to form a clot, but when that injury is healed we need our bodies to break down the clot.  This beautiful dance of clotting and breaking down of clots is considered in homeostasis when these opposing forces are balanced.  If our bodies are experiencing cellular stress, the body automatically looks for ways to recreate balance for survival. This is when autophagy comes into play.

There are various cellular stressors that may bring upon autophagy, including nutrient deprivation, fasting, exercise, or a significant shift in temperature. When your body undergoes these stressful situations, it will start destroying older and damaged cells and cellular organelles that don’t work properly anymore, leaving room for new, healthy cells and organelles.   Organelles are tiny parts of your cells that play similar roles in your cells as the organs in your body. One of the organelles you may have heard of is the mitochondria.  This is the organelle in the cell that produces energy.

When a cell experiences nutrient restriction due to fasting or another major stressor, it will make something called a phagophore. A phagophore is a transient double-membrane structure, similar to the lipid bilayer of the cell membrane.The phagophore expands to surround and then enclose various cellular units, such as lipids and proteins in the membrane or other organelles. Then with the help of lysosomes (another type of organelle) that contains degrading enzymes, the phagophore destroys these components. Once these unnecessary cellular organelles are destroyed, your body can focus on creating new cells and you’re on your way to better health and vitality!  (1, 2, 3).


healthy woman doing yoga

Benefits of Autophagy

Just like taking out the trash in our homes, cellular autophagy is very beneficial for our health. Here’s why…

 Removing Old Cells

Just like your body, your cells also have a lifespan. Fortunately, though, your body can replace cells that are approaching the end of their cycle through autophagy. Just like old cars and elderly human beings, older cells tend to have more wear and tear. They don’t function as well in performing all the functions of cells, like creating energy in the mitochondria, producing proteins, breaking down fats for cell membranes, etc.   Older and damaged cells may promote inflammation and increase the risk of chronic symptoms and health issues. Activating autophagy can help your body to remove old and damaged cells and allows new and healthy ones to take their place. (4).

Eliminating Cells Infected by Viruses and Bacteria

Unlike yeast and parasites, viruses and some bacteria like mycoplasma, bartonella or borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, can get inside your cells. They hijack the cells and can negatively influence the expression of cellular genetics and metabolism. If you have a robust immune system, your body can turn off viral expressions to protect your health. However, due to their location in the cell, the immune system is unable to remove them. Dormant viruses will lie quietly inside your cells but can get activated at any time through stressors, such as an illness or trauma. Autophagy, on the other hand, can help to decrease viral activity, remove infected cells, and support your body in fighting off viruses and other intracellular infections (5).

Supporting Mitochondrial Health

Your mitochondria are unique organelles that serve as a powerhouse of your cells. They create energy to support a healthy and functioning body. They are at risk from many different insults like mold, toxins, antibiotics that lead to increased oxidative stress.  If this happens, your mitochondria’s ability to create energy is reduced.  Without autophagy, your mitochondrial and cellular health becomes compromised. Free radicals and oxidative damage, cripple the mitochondria and the cells.  Left unchecked, the cells will die (apoptosis), creating more oxidative stress and inflammation.  Activating autophagy can support your body in degrading the older mitochondria and then reusing old and dysfunctional mitochondria and replacing them with new and healthy mitochondria instead (4).

Decreasing Cellular Apoptosis

Apoptosis refers to the process of cell death that older cells go through. Apoptosis puts more stress on your body and increases inflammation. Autophagy, on the other hand, is a much more energy-efficient way to deal with old and damaged cells. It helps to recycle older and unhealthy cells without causing inflammation (6).

Creating a More Resilient and Healthier Body

Autophagy helps to reduce chronic inflammation and related symptoms and health issues. It allows your body to rely on healthier and stronger cells that are more resilient to wear and tear, pathogens, and other harm. It may support your gut health, memory, cognition, mood, and other areas of your health. Activating autophagy may help you have a stronger, healthier, and more resilient body and mind (7).


Autophagy crossfit athletes

How to Enhance Autophagy

Autophagy is essential for cellular function and survival. Autophagy helps to:

  • Recycle damaged and old cells and cellular particles into new and healthy ones.
  • Remove cells and cell parts that don’t function well and slow your body’s energy and performance.
  • Kills viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens within the cell that may hurt the cell.

Supporting autophagy becomes particularly important as you get older. As you age, autophagy decreases. Slowed autophagy can result in a buildup of poorly functioning and old cellular parts and cells.

So how can you enhance autophagy? Here are my best tips:


Fasting means not eating for a period of time. It may be only part of a day, a day, or several days. Some fasting practices may only cut out solids or certain foods for a period of time instead of removing food completely.  Humans were built to withstand periods of feasting and fasting.  In our modern day life, where food is readily available, we have to make a conscious effort to fast.  Luckily, there are a variety of options to suit most people interested in this method of supporting autophagy.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is an increasingly popular fasting strategy. When you are intermittent fasting, you are only fasting for part of the day. The most common approach is the 16:8 method, which means staying away from food for 16 hours and reserving an 8-hour window for your meals. For example, you may stop eating after dinner at 6 pm and don’t eat until 10 am the next day. You consume all your meals between 10 and 6 pm.

Some people keep this fasting window short. Others may keep it longer. The One-Meal-a-Day (OMAD) diet keeps only an hour-long eating window for very large meals. Some people practice intermittent fasting daily. Others only do it a few times a week or certain times of the month. Women may benefit from Crescendo fasting, a type of intermittent fasting that only involves fasting on 2 or 3 non-consecutive days per week and is less demanding on your body.

An important component of intermittent fasting is that you are not restricting calories. The eating or feasting window is just as important as the fasting period itself. During this time, you should consume nutrient-dense whole foods, meeting all your macronutrient, micronutrient, and caloric needs.

Partial Fasting

Partial fasts are in-between intermittent fasting and a full extended fast. An example is a juice fast and it may last for a day, a few days, or even several weeks. During this time, you are only drinking green juices. In some cases, green smoothies, protein shakes, or vegetable broth are also allowed for dinner. However, you are not eating solids. During a bone broth fast, you are only drinking bone broth for a period of time.

The Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) allows solid foods. However, it significantly cuts your calories and the type of foods you get to eat. It’s a 5-day protocol on a low-protein, vegetarian, whole foods diet. On the first day, you can eat 1,100 calories total, 500 of which should come from healthy fats, 500 from complex carbs, and 100 from plant-based protein. Between days 2 and 5, you should restrict your calorie intake to 800 calories, 400 from healthy fats, and 400 from complex carbs.  There are commercially available fasting mimicking diets or you can design your own!

Extended Fasting

Extended fasting means that you are fasting for 24 hours or longer. During this time, you are only drinking water. In some cases, you may be allowed to drink herbal tea and/or coffee. Foods or drinks with calories are not allowed.

Tips for Fasting

Fasting is a powerful way to stimulate autophagy. Research has shown that intermittent fasting and FMD may help to improve autophagy, re-balance gut microbiome health, and support metabolic function (8, 9).

If you are new to fasting, starting with intermittent fasting may be the easiest way. Start with a 10 or 12-hour overnight fast. With a 12-hour fast, if you stop eating after dinner at 7 pm, you will be ready for breakfast at 7 am. Gradually extend your fasting window until you find what works best for you.

If you do well on extended fasting, you may try a juice cleanse, bone broth fast, or FMD. If you feel good on a juice cleanse, eventually, you may try a one-day water fast. However, I recommend speaking with your doctor to see if fasting is right for you.

No matter what you choose, don’t forget about nourishing your body. If you are practicing intermittent fasting, follow a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet and meet your caloric needs during your eating window. If you try a liquid cleanse, FMD, or extended fasting, gradually reintroduce solids and continue following a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet. You can couple a juice fast or extended fasting to an elimination diet to modify your food choices and reduce inflammation.  Be aware that extended calorie restriction is not beneficial for your health and may lead to fatigue, hormonal issues, mood imbalances, and other health issues.

Lower-Carb Diets

Another way to stimulate autophagy through diet is by following a low-carb or ketogenic diet (10, 11). Remove any refined sugar, refined oils, artificial ingredients, overly processed foods, and junk food. Focus on a nutrient-dense diet. Eat lots of leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, herbs, spices, sprouts, low-glycemic index fruits, and fermented foods.

Your diet should be high in healthy fats, including avocados, coconut oil, olives, extra-virgin olive oil, organic butter and ghee, nuts, and seeds. Your protein should come from grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish and seafood, and wild game.

Low-carb diets are not right for everyone, especially long term. To get nutrition guidance, I recommend scheduling a consultation with our nutritionist Sarah here. She can help you figure out what diet may be the best choice for you.

Intense Exercise

Intense exercise is another highly effective way to support autophagy. It can help to simulate human growth hormone (HGH) production that may support autophagy, fat burning, and muscle repair. Exercise may also help to boost your mood, improve your sleep, and increase mental focus (12, 13).

I recommend that you exercise at least 5 days a week, incorporating some intense workouts or intense periods within your workouts. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and Tabata workouts offer a great mix of intense strength workouts, resistance training, and cardio. You may also try some sprints at the end of your jog, swimming or cycling fast, jump roping, speed walking, or jumping on your trampoline. If you are not yet exercising or minimally exercising, please consult your health care practitioner to help you begin a workout routine.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Intense heat or cold exposure, or alternating between the two extremes, also puts stress on your body, which activates autophagy (14). I recommend trying infrared sauna therapy for heat therapy and detoxification. Finish your sauna session with a cold shower or by jumping into a cold pool. You may try to alternate between hot and cold water during your show or simply finish your shower off with cold water.  See my other blogs on these topics: my article on infrared sauna and my article on cold exposure.


Sleep, of course, is essential for your overall health. Poor sleep can lead to low energy, chronic inflammation, stress, poor mental health, and chronic health issues. Poor sleep may also lead to poor neuronal autophagy. Restorative sleep, REM sleep in particular, on the other hand, may help to support neuronal autophagy, neuronal integrity, neuronal function, and homeostasis (15, 16).

I recommend that you aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. To support your circadian rhythm, try to go to bed and wake up around the same time. Avoid heavy food, sugar, alcohol, stress, and electronic use close to bedtime. Choose relaxing activities, such as reading, coloring, journaling, listening to music, or taking a bath to help you relax before bed.

Herbal Support

Finally, you may also try some herbs that may help to support autophagy. Thanks to its antioxidant and ECGC content, matcha green tea may help to mimic the effects of calorie restriction, thus supporting autophagy (17). Turmeric and ginger may help to reduce inflammation, metabolic syndrome, pain, and symptoms of chronic health issues and support autophagy (18, 19, 20, 21, 22).

Resveratrol and quercetin may both help to activate autophagy and reduce inflammation (23, 24, 25, 26). Citrus bergamot offers antioxidant support and may help autophagy (27, 28). Finally, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage are also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich herbs that may support autophagy (29, 30, 31, 32). I recommend Anti-InflammX for inflammation and autophagy support. I also recommend Resvoxitrol with resveratrol and turmeric.


Autophagy healthy nutritious food

Next Steps

If you want to improve your health, I welcome you to schedule a functional nutrition consultation with my nutritionist, Sarah. Visit our store for products. I recommend Anti-InflammX and Resvoxitrol for autophagy, reducing inflammation, and overall better health.

And stay tuned for more information to help you uncover the root cause of your health issues, improve your nutrition, repair your body, and regain your health naturally.

You can schedule your consultation with Sarah here.