There's been an explosion of literature and research around our body's healing mechanisms that have given concrete proof to what a lot of cultures have suspected for thousands of years. In fact, a Japanese scientist known by the name Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy which has the potential to increase your lifespan, fight inflammation, help you lose weight and build muscle. Lets go into this a bit deeper.
So what exactly is autophagy?
Let's imagine that your body is a bit like a busy city. You have millions of people going about their jobs as well as busy highways, police officers arresting the threats and paramedics healing the injuries. But there's one really important part of the city that's often forgotten - the waste disposal. Autophagy essentially allows our bodies to take out the trash. This means removing and recycling old cells for regeneration and repair. Sounds pretty important right? That's because it is!
A huge issue in healthcare right now is that our bodies have adapted and evolved over millions of years to eat, sleep and move in a certain way. The modern industrialised lifestyle of office based work, high stress environments, readily available processed foods as well as social inequality have driven us towards a state where we have diminished our ability to self heal. This has coincided with a huge increase in chronic disease, obesity and addiction. Our bodies and minds are simply not adapted for this lifestyle and it's becoming more and more obvious as the statistics mount up. All the while, pharmacological treatments are often masking symptoms and resulting in undesirable side effects until people get to a point where they physically can't compensate any more. In the end it's up to you to take control of your health, the best part is it's not all that complex.
There are three key ingredients to stimulate autophagy for a healthier body and mind:
Although there's no 'most important' ingredient for autophagy, diet is undoubtedly essential. For autophagy to happen at all, you need to be in a 'fasting' state. This means ideally no calories for around 16 hours which is called time restricted eating. Most people do a 16:8 hour fast when introducing this however you can also do an intermittent fast where you do a longer period of calorie restriction (500 calories) for 2 days of the week.
The other important aspect of diet is to eat for a healthy microbiome. Your gut is a complex ecosystem but industrialised lifestyles, processed foods and antibiotics can turn it into more of a desert. Most people have about 25% of the optimal microbes which can weaken immunity and contribute to chronic inflammation.
To remedy this, try to incorporate more fibre, grains and fermented foods into your diet. Avoid processed foods and go for the complex carbohydrates over the simple ones. This means choosing brown rice, nutty breads and berries. When you eat meat, try get it local and the less processed the better.
Second on the list, and not to be understated is stress. Stress is commonly misunderstood and underestimated. Stress can be driven from psychological stress (in the mind) or physiological stress (in the body) whenever there's something that pushes you out of physiological normalcy. Often the two can fuel each other which contributes to chronic stress. For example, if you have persistent back pain, it can cause psychological anxiety which can stop you from exercising thereby making the injury worse from disuse. Or anxiety can increase your heart rate which can fuel the anxiety to develop into a panic attack. Either of these feedback loops contribute to chronic stress where your body has an upregulated sympathetic (fight or flight) system. This also contributes to a reduced ability to self heal as our recovery and healing happens in the parasympathetic system (rest and recover).
Stress often ends up as a symptom of a deeper problem which you should typically address with a healthcare professional however there's a few things you can start to do to regulate it. Our bodies tend to love controlled stress. Controlled stress is essentially something that we can control and puts us temporarily out of our physiological baseline. This includes exercise, sunlight, hot/cold therapy and acupressure mats. A good place to start might be going for a walk in the sun for 10 minutes, doing some yoga when you wake up or having a blast of cold water after your shower. You can also check out our ebook "4 Ancient Secrets to Master Stress" for more techniques on mastering stress.
"If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made." Allan Rechtschaffen.
Science is starting to understand the limitless benefits of a good night sleep. Sleep is paramount for our brain function, emotional regulation, healing of soft tissues as well as hormone regulation.
The flip side, this is this is a two way street. So if there's something dysregulating our hormones, an injury to the tissues, difficulty with emotional regulation or something that affects our brain function then it can be difficult to get a good night sleep. Our bodies are great but they definitely are also flawed!
So, when you're struggling with something, it can be important to give yourself a helping hand. This is known as 'sleep hygiene'. The first port of call is to try manage your stress levels and diet. These are often easier things to change and should have the flow on to help you get that much needed rest. This means, no matter how sluggish you feel to try and get out in the sun and do a bit of exercise (walking will do the trick). Cortisol (stress hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone) work in opposites so if you can work on increasing your cortisol in the morning, you should be able to increase your melatonin that night. On this note, other ways to get sleepy (increase melatonin) include turning down the lights, avoiding screens and doing something to relax. This might be reading, taking a hot bath, doing some meditation or doing some gentle yin yoga.
Although this sounds like a lot of lifestyle change, I'd encourage you to take one small step at a time. Of course, if there's something getting in your way like an old injury it's a good idea to work through this with your healthcare provider.