What is autophagy?
In this course, you will learn how autophagy works and how it happens in your cells.
If you practice Intermittent fasting or exercise, it’s probably because you want to get slimmer or stronger. However, both have benefits that scale all the way down to your cells.
All of the organs and tissues in your body are made up of tiny factories called cells. They make building blocks, genetic material, and energy.
To work best, your cells need to clean themselves up by reusing their old parts and making new ones. To do this, they use a recycling process called autophagy.
Autophagy is a critical process for your health that literally means self-eating.
It gets rid of worn-out cell parts and proteins that aren’t working like they should.
But as you age, autophagy becomes less efficient, causing your cells to accumulate damage.
Continue to learn how autophagy was discovered and how it could help prevent diseases of aging!
Christian de Duve was a Belgian scientist who studied how cells worked. In the 1950’s he discovered the lysosome, a tiny compartment that acts as the cell’s recycling plant.
In the 1960’s, other scientists showed that large amounts of cell material, and even whole cell parts, were sometimes found inside lysosomes.
Lysosomes digest old and damaged cell parts, breaking them down for reuse. De Duve called this process ‘autophagy’. In 1974, he won the Nobel Prize for discovering the lysosome!
In the 90’s, Japanese researcher Yoshimori Ohsumi used baker’s yeast to show how cells tag their own damaged components and deliver them to the lysosome for recycling.
His work led to the discovery of a whole family of proteins that coordinate the recycling of damaged cell parts. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology for this work in 2016!
By 1999, American scientist Beth Levine was studying autophagy in mammals and discovered that lack of autophagy is linked to cancer and premature death.
She also found that autophagy is responsible for some of the health benefits of exercise, including extending life and protecting against heart disease.
Autophagy keeps you healthy by breaking down and recycling damaged cell components.
Keep reading to find out how it works!
Low levels of autophagy occur in your cells all the time, but they ramp it up when nutrients are low, or when there is increased demand for energy— a.k.a when you’re fasting or working out.
When you fast or exercise, your body can remove old components if they have accumulated too much damage, or turn them into things your cells can use.
This provides your cells with sugars and other building blocks that can power you through a fast or a workout.
When your cells are ready to start recycling, 3 things happen:
First, a cup-shaped structure, known as the phagophore, begins to form around damaged cell parts.
Second, the edges of the phagophore extend and fuse, forming a new structure known as the autophagosome. This “recycling bin” contains the damaged material.
Third, the autophagosome fuses with the lysosome— the cell’s recycling plant— where all the components are degraded and reused.
The end result is the elimination of damaged cell parts that accumulate as we age, which might help you live longer and prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.
- Cells protect themselves when nutrients are scarce by ramping up autophagy, a process through which faulty cell components are turned into useful parts that cells can use until nutrients are plentiful again.
- Although it’s a survival mechanism, it can also prevent diseases by getting rid of excess damaged parts linked with diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.
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