Signs of Autophagy – Biohack Your Way to Health and Wellness

Signs of Autophagy – Biohack Your Way to Health and Wellness

What would you say if we told you that your body can eat old or damaged parts of your cells so that you can stay healthy and energized? This might sound like science fiction, but it is indeed a biological phenomenon called “autophagy.” Autophagy is a highly conserved cellular process that allows your cells to “eat” and reuse old cell parts to operate more efficiently. In this article, CARE shines a light on autophagy and how you can induce it to biohack your way to a healthier and more vital you!

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in General Health
9 min read · Mar 11, 2024

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What Is Autophagy?

Autophagy is a self-degradative and natural process that occurs in our cells to balance energy sources at critical times and in response to nutrient stress. [1]

Think of autophagy as a cellular 'cleanup crew' and anti-aging regimen. When parts of a cell become damaged or old, autophagy helps to break these parts down and recycles them. Autophagy removes misfolded or aggregated proteins, clears damaged organelles, such as mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and peroxisomes, and eliminates intracellular pathogens. This cleaning and recycling process is important because it helps the cell to get rid of unwanted material and makes room for new, healthy components. [1]

The term "autophagy" comes from Greek words meaning "self-eating.”“Auto” means self, and “phagy” means eat. This might sound strange, but it's a good way to describe what happens: the cell eats its own parts that are no longer needed or are defective in a controlled and beneficial way.

The autophagy process was discovered by Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi, who was fascinated by how cells cleaned and maintained themselves.

But autophagy is not just about waste removal. It's crucial for several other aspects of a cell's life, including how it responds to stress, how it changes and develops, and how it defends itself against threats like cancer cells. [2] Autophagy is controlled by various signals within the cell that tell it when to start and stop. These signals are often related to the cell's nutritional status or other environmental factors.

So, when and how does autophagy occur?

When Does Autophagy Occur?

Autophagy typically happens when a cell is under stress or is not getting enough nutrients. When our body senses that it is running low on fuel, it activates autophagy to conserve energy and resources. [1] This is similar to how we might cut down on expenses when we're trying to save money.

Several aspects can trigger autophagy, and incorporating your knowledge of how to trigger autophagy allows you to speed up or induce this vital process:

How Can You Induce Autophagy?

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There are indeed some clever tricks on how you can stimulate autophagy in order to profit from the biological clean-up of your cells:

Fasting or Calorie Restriction

When you're not eating enough, your body turns on autophagy to recycle cellular components and provide energy. Intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet (keto diet) have been shown to induce autophagy. [3]

Ketone bodies, produced during states of reduced carbohydrate intake or fasting, are known to stimulate autophagy by activating specific signaling pathways that initiate this cellular cleanup process. Elevated ketone levels, therefore, can serve as a signal for the body to initiate autophagy, helping in the removal of damaged cellular components and promoting metabolic efficiency. [3]


Exercise induces the autophagy process by creating a physiological demand for an energy source, leading to increased fat burning and the mobilization of fatty acids for fuel, which in turn signals cells to start the autophagy process. This process not only provides necessary energy through fat metabolism but also clears out damaged cellular components, enhancing muscle health and overall cellular efficiency. [4]

Lack of Oxygen – Slow Breathing or Intermittent Hypoxia

When cells don't get enough oxygen, they use autophagy to adapt and survive. The process is regulated by different pathways in the cell, like switches that turn it on or off depending on the cell's needs. You can create hypoxia through intermittent or slow breathing techniques. [5]

Why Should You Want to Induce Autophagy?

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There are several reasons why boosting autophagy can be beneficial for your health:

Autophagy Can Increase Longevity

Research shows autophagy can help increase lifespan by keeping cells healthier for longer. Autophagy contributes to longevity by removing damaged cellular components, thereby preventing the accumulation of cellular debris that can lead to age-related diseases and cellular dysfunction. By maintaining cellular health and function, autophagy helps slow down the aging process and extends the lifespan of cells, which in turn contributes to the overall longevity of a person. [6]

Disease Prevention Through Autophagy

Autophagy plays a critical role in disease prevention by routinely clearing out damaged proteins and organelles from cells, which, if accumulated, can lead to various diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders and cancer. This cellular housekeeping process is essential for maintaining cellular health and preventing the dysfunctional cellular activity that often underlies disease development. [5] [7]

Supporting Muscle Health

Autophagy supports improved muscle health by aiding in the removal of damaged proteins and organelles in muscle cells, thereby preventing muscle degeneration and promoting muscle repair and regeneration. This process is crucial for maintaining muscle functionality and adaptability and building new muscle mass, especially in response to exercise and muscle stress. [6]

Improved Brain Health

Autophagy contributes to brain health by eliminating damaged cellular components and misfolded proteins in neural cells, which, if accumulated, can lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's. This cellular cleaning mechanism is essential in maintaining brain function and protecting against cognitive and neurodegenerative decline, thus preserving overall brain health. [7]

Better Immune Response

Autophagy enhances the immune response by degrading and recycling intracellular pathogens and presenting their antigens, thus strengthening the body's defense against infections. Additionally, it regulates inflammation by controlling the survival and death of immune cells, thereby maintaining immune system balance and preventing overactive immune responses that can lead to autoimmune diseases. [8]

A Healthy Glucose Metabolism

Autophagy plays a significant role in regulating insulin sensitivity by ensuring the proper functioning of insulin receptors and the efficient removal of dysfunctional cellular components that can interfere with insulin signaling. By maintaining cellular health, particularly in liver and muscle tissues, which are key for your blood sugar and insulin action, autophagy helps preserve normal glucose metabolism and insulin levels, preventing insulin resistance, a precursor to conditions like type 2 diabetes. [1] [6]

What Are the Signs of Autophagy?

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Identifying autophagy in action is challenging because it's a microscopic process. However, scientists have found certain markers that indicate autophagy is occurring like LC3, p62/SQSTM1 Levels, and autophagic vacuoles. LC3 is a protein involved in autophagy and p62 is a protein that gets broken down during autophagy. Autophagic Vacuoles are tiny structures within the cell where the breakdown and recycling occur. They can be observed under a microscope.

Since you probably don’t own the right, or any, microscope to take a look at these tiny proteins and structures, let us take a look at how your body reacts to autophagy.

Everyday Signs That Autophagy Takes Place

How does autophagy feel like, and what are autophagy symptoms? In everyday life, the signs of autophagy are not always obvious. Some people report feeling more mentally clear and physically energized during fasting or intense exercise, which might be attributed to autophagy.

You Lose Weight or Body Fat

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When the body undergoes autophagy, it starts to consume its own damaged or surplus cellular components for energy. Weight loss can be one of the signs of autophagy fasting. Essentially, as the body recycles its own cells, particularly fat cells, there is a reduction in overall body mass. It's important to note, however, that weight loss can result from a variety of factors, and autophagy is just one potential contributor that has been linked to preventing weight gain. [3] [9]

You Are in Ketosis

Ketosis occurs when your body begins to burn body fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. This typically happens during prolonged periods of fasting or a ketogenic diet. When in ketosis, the body also activates autophagy, particularly as a response to reduced glucose availability. Autophagy and ketosis often go hand in hand because they are both activated by similar metabolic conditions — primarily, the need for the body to use its internal energy reserves efficiently. [3]

When in ketosis, common signs and symptoms include weight loss, increased ketones in the blood, breath, or urine, reduced appetite, increased focus and energy, short-term fatigue, short-term decreases in performance, digestive issues, and insomnia. Some people also experience a distinctive “keto breath,” which is often described as fruity or metallic.

What Should You Keep in Mind When You Induce Autophagy?

How do I know if autophagy is working? And what should I keep in mind? While autophagy clearly has its health benefits, it's important to approach it carefully and listen to your body.

The benefits of autophagy can only onset if you do not strain your body and stay overall healthy. In order to do this, please consider the following aspects when you wish to use autophagy to improve your health:

Don’t Overdo It – Balance is Key

Too much autophagy can be harmful, just like too little. It's about finding a balance. Overactive autophagy can lead to cell death and tissue damage. Therefore, establishing a balance is especially important because autophagy affects different cells and tissues in various ways. [1]

Consult a Healthcare Professional

If you have existing health conditions or are planning significant lifestyle changes like fasting or a new exercise regimen, it's indispensable to seek medical advice. This is because such changes can have profound effects on your body, particularly if you're managing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or eating disorders. A healthcare professional can provide personalized advice that considers your unique health situation.

Do Not Starve Yourself – Nutritional Aspects

Engaging in practices that induce autophagy, like fasting, shouldn't lead to nutritional deficiencies. Your body still needs essential nutrients to function properly. The goal is to manage nutrient intake smartly, not to deprive the body. Proper nutrition ensures that while you're inducing autophagy, your body is still getting the necessary vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to support overall health. [3]

Listen to Your Body

Everyone's response to autophagy-inducing activities like fasting, a keto diet, or exercise is different. Pay attention to how your body reacts. Some might find certain practices easier or more beneficial than others. Listening to your body means paying attention to how it reacts to these changes. If you feel unwell or overly stressed, it could be a sign to modify your approach. This personal attunement helps you in finding the most beneficial and sustainable way to induce autophagy for you. Excessive autophagy can lead to muscle degradation, weakened immune response, and fatigue as your body starts breaking down more of its own tissues than is beneficial for your health.

Avoid Extremes

Extreme measures, be it in dieting, fasting, or exercising, can be counterproductive and even harmful. Excessive restriction in diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies, while overexercising can cause physical injury and undue stress on the body. Moderation is key. It's about making gradual, sustainable changes that can be maintained in the long term without adverse effects on your health.

Preventative Healthcare with CARE

Being up-to-date with the latest scientific insights and enabling yourself to understand and optimize your health is the essence of your CARE membership.

During our comprehensive health check-ups and with an in-depth blood analysis, we give you insight into your current health status and potential room for improvement. This allows you to detect changes in your body early on and to optimize your health and wellness.

Taking charge of your health means not only caring about it today but also tomorrow. Inducing autophagy can be beneficial if you do it right. Please do not hesitate to contact us to learn more about CARE. Our healthcare providers will gladly discuss safe and beneficial ways to stimulate autophagy during your first free consultation.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!