The Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2016 went to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of the autophagy’s mechanisms.
What is Autophagy?
It’s basically hunger. You don’t believe it!? Here’s the scientific evidence…
The word derives from the Greek auto (self) and phagein (to eat). So, the word literally means to eat yourself. It is a mechanism by which the body is liberated from all the malfunctioning and old parts of the cell (organelles, proteins and cell membranes), for which there is not enough energy to be maintained by the body. This is a regulated, systematic process for breaking down and recycling cellular components. The process for recycling of the entire cell is known as apoptosis – also known as “programmed cell death”. Cells are “programmed” to be replaced after a certain number of divisions (by number of divisions it is meant a certain number of duplicates – reflections). Imagine printer copies where each next copy is printed off the preceding one. And that basis image pales away with each next image. There comes a point in which we either need to replace the sheet by inserting the information anew and printing it out for the first time anew (read “to make a choice”), or we need to reboot our system (replace the hologram – also a choice) … The process of autophagy is essential for maintaining good health. Cells grow old and wear out due to all those “wonderful thoughts” of the past we sustain. When we live in the past, the codes and information, which we set for the cells to work with, have been already experienced. In other words, we have closed ourselves and our bodies for the passage of energy, which only comes when we are experiencing something new. Our constant “return” to the past wears the cell off. Because the vitality of a cell is dependent on discovering new possibilities of development, and of expansion of the energy…
In autophagy, instead of replacing the entire cell (apoptosis), there occurs the transmutation of only some cellular parts. This is a process by which, on a subcellular level, some organelles are being replaced by new ones. The old cell membranes, organelles, etc. are removed by being sent into the so-called lysosomal-organelle – an organelle containing enzymes for the breaking down of proteins. One of the elements that is essentially instrumental for the regulation of autophagia is kinase, also called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). When mTOR is activated, it suppresses autophagia, and when it is inactive – autophagy is prompted.
The key activator of the autophagy process is the deprivation of food. When we eat, the insulin goes up, and its polarity (glucagon) goes down. In turn, the increase in glucagon stimulates the process of autophagia. Thus, a glucagon lift is the mechanism for activating autophagia, which is basically a form of cell cleansing. As a result, the body identifies old and non-standard cellular proteins and marks them as elements for transmutation. Those non-standard cellular proteins are what is sometimes referred to as “cell junk” – the factor responsible for the effects of aging. It is important to understand autophagy as a process of cleansing and not just experimental food deprivation. Such understanding will help us in the process while actually performing it. The benefits of fasting (food deprivation over an extended period of time) are real and they go beyond stimulating a process with a fancy-sounding name:
- By stimulating autophagia, we cleanse and recycle all of our old, worn-out proteins and cell parts.
- Fasting stimulates the growth hormone that triggers the body to transmute and replace the unfit and worn-out elements.
Autophagy is a Choice…
It is a conscious choice for a regulated transmutation process. During autophagy, the old components of cells are divided into their constituent amino acids (building blocks of the protein). Initially, in the early stages of food deprivation, amino acid levels increase. Thus, at the beginning of fasting, a slight discomfort will occur. Subsequently, the amino acids will pass through the liver for undergoing the process gluconeogenesis, as some of them will be broken down into glucose. The amino acids eventually go on to be included in the formation of new proteins. Thus, the organism orchestrates its own adjustment for the upcoming renewal, for the new manifestation and experiencing. If we do not find meaning in living, if we are not the seekers who explore what they have found themselves, our push for making our organism adjust to the changes will be but an (re)affirmation of our thinking that would fatigue and nervousness, in depression and reluctance to live. Therefore, we have to be perfectly clear about our intentions when undergoing autophagy. Because we would have to embrace the process as it unfolds.
The consequences from the accumulation of old worn-out proteins are displayed by two prominent diseases – Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Alzheimer’s disease involves the accumulation of abnormal protein that deteriorates the brain system.
Nutrition stops the self-cleansing process of autophagy. Therefore, autophagy cannot be achieved through restriction of calories or a diet – even when this restriction is being optimal (say, you are only eating a minimum amount of fruits a day). On the other hand, we should be careful of not reaching a state of addiction – anorexia is an example of this.
Striking the balance between feasting and fasting is the Hermetic path of the interflowing polarities, which enables the growth of cells during feasting, and their cleansing during fasting.