Feeling Sluggish? Tired? Slow?
How are your energy levels these days? Are you feeling energized when you wake up? What about the rest of the day? How efficient is your digestion? Are you having two bowel movements a day? Yes….two !! Now how does one do that?
One reason your body might feel a bit slow or off is because the process of autophagy could be slackening
What is Autophagy?
Autophagy is an important and natural process within cells. It’s generally thought of as a cellular recycling factory. The etymology of ‘autophagy’ comes from the Ancient Greek autóphagos, which means “self-devouring” or “self-eating”. It was coined by a Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve, in 1963. He discovered the lysosome, while he observed unneeded cellular structures and degraded proteins being engulfed in a big bubble and transported to this waste disposal unit in the cell.
Typically, autophagy works quietly behind the scenes in maintenance mode. It plays a more active role when your body responds to stress and regulates cellular function (1). Autophagy helps to recycle unnecessary cellular components, such as damaged mitochondria or proteins, which may prevent cells from dividing and functioning normally. It also helps to eliminate pathogens and toxins at the intracellular level.
This clearing helps your body to regenerate new and healthy cells more effectively (2).
Studies on Autophagy
Only as recent as 2016, autophagy was found to have a key role when the body responds to starvation and infection, and it has become linked with specific conditions, including cancer and neurological disease (2). Years of impressive research and study by Yoshinori Ohsumi led him being awarded the Nobel Prize in this emerging field.
It’s hardly surprising that autophagy is important for long-lived cells such as neurons. Unlike other cells, neurons do not cellularly divide and do not die off to be replaced by new ones. This makes them vulnerable to degradation and may negatively impact learning and memory (3).
A recent UCLA study, printed in Toxicological Sciences in May 2020, investigated the effects of diesel exhaust on the risk of Parkinson’s disease. It showed that increased exhaust exposure increased the prevalence of Parkinson’s, and decreased the efficacy of autophagy (4). What was really interesting with this study is that these researchers were able to investigate the process of autophagy in real time by using transparent zebrafish as their subjects. They could actually watch the process of autophagy, or lack thereof, happen right before their eyes. With such novel techniques, the future of research in this area is full of promise.