What in the world is autophagy?

Autophagy is your body’s natural cellular recycling program. It’s the body’s way of effectively cleaning out damaged cells in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells and is often described as the missing link in anti-ageing for all our cells, skin included. The basic idea behind autophagy (auto meaning ‘self’, phage meaning ‘eat’) is that in the absence of external sources of food, the body literally begins to eat itself, destroying and recycling its own damaged cells and proteins, so that new and healthy versions can be built. Incredible, huh?

Autophagy is also believed to be essential for helping protect against diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. It removes toxins, rejuvenates cells, and activates an immune response to repair damaged cells, restore cells and fight infection. Although it is still considered early days in terms of research into autophagy, the recommendations on what affects autophagy and what we can do to encourage autophagy are becoming more apparent.

What affects autophagy?

The older we get, the rate at which our skin cells regenerate slows down dramatically. In our 20’s, the skin has roughly a 28-day life cycle but as we get older and into our 50’s, this can increase to approximately 50-days! As autophagy speeds up the process of cell renewal, it also increases the rate that collagen is produced (a well known factor in anti-ageing). When autophagy doesn’t occur, the skin can begin to look tired and dull because the cells aren’t regenerating quickly enough. When it occurs and occurs regularly, it contributes to the formation of corneocytes and sebum which protect the living cells of the skin from stressors in the environment.

What can we do to help boost autophagy?

  • Intermittent fasting – Research indicates that a fast of 16-hours deprives cells of nutrients safely. This in turn stimulates the autophagy response to produce amino acids that can be used as an energy source in order to maintain cellular function
  • Cold Water Therapy - A quick shift in your body temperature can dynamically change your intracellular system. An icy shower, a cold plunge pool or a fresh jump in the ocean / a lake will do the trick as these are hormetic stressors to the body. This means when the small stress is applied to the body it can result in processes that make it stronger, or more resilient. Cold shock proteins help to maintain stem cells, repair damaged proteins, reduce inflammation, stabilise tumour factors as well as fight neurodegeneration. Cold exposure has also been shown to activate brown fat which boosts metabolism and mitochondrial function. Please note that if you have any heart or circulation issues, we recommend you speak to a health professional before embarking on cold water therapy
  • Polyphenols – Powerful antioxidants that help to protect cells by combating free radicals in the body. They then repair the cells by triggering autophagy. Polyphenols are found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, peanuts and soybeans, curcumin in turmeric and lignans in flax seeds, sesame seeds and whole grains. Red wine also contains resveratrol which helps to reduce inflammation and supports autophagy, it also assists heart health too (YES!)
  • Spermidine - To increase autophagy, eating foods high in spermidine may be helpful. Spermidine has been shown to significantly benefit overall liver health, even in those predisposed to conditions like liver fibrosis or cancer. Foods high in spermidine include aged cheese, mushrooms, soybeans, wheat germ, whole grains, corn, fresh green pepper, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Exercise - HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), weight lifting and resistance training have all been found to induce autophagy. Even short bursts of 30 minutes have been shown to heighten autophagy so we really have no excuse!
  • Vitamin A - essential for speeding up skin cell renewal, a key aspect of autophagy. Vitamin A (in the form of encapsulated retinol) is our hero ingredient in our i am [vitality] active night serum leading to hydrated skin, even skin tone, reduced inflammation and improved texture
  • Vitamin C - boosts collagen production and has many antioxidant properties that help fight free radicals and repair. For an energising and brightening start to your day, try our Vitamin C rich i am [vitality] day serum . Scientifically formulated to boost energy and collagen within your cells, protect the skin from the external stressors we meet every day and give you instant hydration and vitality

Activating autophagy isn’t really in what you do, but more how you do it. So whether it be alternating between eating and fasting in specific time windows, or shifting from intense exercise to rest and then back again, or jumping into the cold, you can easily optimise the overall functioning of your physiology without making major changes to your daily life or workouts. Your body and skin will thank you for it! 

Please consult your health professional regarding autophagy if you’re taking any medications, are pregnant, breastfeeding, or wish to become pregnant, or have a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes.