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Autophagy Fasting: Benefits and How To

By Liam McAuliffe Updated on

Autophagy means “self-devouring” and refers to a process by which old and damaged cells are broken down and their components recycled into new cells. Fasting is a safe and proven way of activating autophagy. Combine these two principles, and voila, you get the term, autophagy fasting. 

In this article, we’ll explore how autophagy works, its importance and benefits, and how to fast and eat in order to jumpstart autophagy. 

Table of Contents

Fast Facts: Autophagy and Fasting 

  • Autophagy is a natural way that your body cleans out damaged cells and cell components like organelles and misfolded proteins and recycles these components into fresh, healthy cells.  
  • Autophagy plays a crucial role in the health of various organs and may protect against neurodegenerative disorders. Autophagy slows with aging and is therefore associated with various anti-aging benefits.
  • Intermittent fasting, calorie restriction, and exercise have all been shown to initiate autophagy quickly.
  • The study of fasting and autophagy in humans is an emerging field. Though the limited studies we have show significant positive benefits. 
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What is Autophagy Fasting?

Autophagy fasting can be considered any form of fasting undertaken to induce autophagy. 

When does autophagy start when fasting?

Studies show that to trigger autophagy, you need to fast for 16-18 hours. However, the timing of your fast is paramount.

Autophagy only begins when fasting in alignment with your circadian rhythm–in other words, it must take place overnight.

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How Does Autophagy Work? 

Though autophagy is often described as a process of cell death and renewal, it more often results in cell maintenance, protection, and survival.

In the case of surviving cells undergoing autophagy, the worn-out and damaged parts are recycled into fresh, functional parts, and the cell is given quality nutrients. 

Here’s a technical breakdown of the process 2.

  • A “autophagosome” structure starts to form.
  • Once the structure encloses the cell, an organelle releases enzymes that can degrade and destroy molecules. 
  • The fusion of the structure and organelle creates an autolysosome in which degradation and recycling of cellular parts occur. 

Stages of Autophagy with labelling vector in colorful concept


Why is Autophagy So Important? 

Autophagy is required for cell survival. Disrupting this process–often through poor diet and constant caloric intake– can lead to abnormal cell growth that contributes to various diseases.

In addition to cleaning out misfolded proteins and damaged organelles, autophagy removes infectious and toxic bacteria and viruses, including mycobacterium tuberculosis, streptococcus, mycotoxins, and herpes simplex virus.

When autophagy is interrupted, it can lead to diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and infectious and neurological diseases. 

diagram of autophagy process eliminating disease

Source: Nature

What are the benefits of autophagy fasting?

Autophagy and its benefits are such an important emerging area of research that Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Medicine for illuminating how the process works.

Let’s take a closer look at how autophagy works and what benefits you can get by achieving autophagy through fasting. 


Anti ageing and longevity as a developing science on the quest to find the cure to ageing, conceptual illustration

Autophagy keeps our cells fresh and healthy, but this process declines as we age.

Not surprisingly, fasting to promote autophagy is associated with anti-aging benefits.

A 2019 study of 11 obese adults compared the effects of intermittent fasting with normal eating patterns. Researchers found that intermittent fasting resulted in longevity-promoting outcomes, including a 22% increase in autophagy gene LC3A after only four days.

Reduced Inflammation

Inflammation is at the root of the so-called diseases of civilization, including heart disease, various cancers, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. 

Fortunately, intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation.

diagram of how fasting reduces inflammation

Source: Cell

A  2019 study found that intermittent fasting douses inflammation by reducing the presence of inflammatory cells called “monocytes.”

The authors theorized that the reduction of monocytes by fasting isn’t a product of starvation/restriction. Rather, it’s a result of eating in greater alignment with our ancestral fasting/feasting cycles. In other words, it’s not about eating fewer calories, just eating them less often and from far fewer carbs. 

Other studies reveal that autophagy is a key mediator of inflammation.

A balanced metabolic system where autophagy turns on and off with intermittent feeding patterns likely supports healthy (non-chronic) inflammatory responses. 

Anti-Cancer Properties

The anti-cancer properties of autophagy is an emerging area of study with immense promise. 

Early studies show that many cancerous cells can be eliminated through autophagy.

The exact mechanisms and degrees of autophagy to effectively prevent or treat cancer has yet to be thoroughly elucidated. 

Preliminary studies looking specifically at the effects of fasting on cancer suggest that is may decrease chemotherapy-related toxicity and tumor growth.

A 2015 study on mice found that intermittent fasting reduced the incidence of cancer. A pilot study by the same researchers on 19 people resulted in decreased risk factors and biomarkers for cancer.

diagram of fasting effects

Source: Cell

Supports Heart Health

A 2021 study looking at the relationship between autophagy and heart health acknowledged that autophagy “reverts and prevents vascular deterioration associated with aging and cardiovascular diseases.” 

The researchers identified that autophagy supports heart health through numerous mechanisms–by eliminating cellular debris that causes oxidative stress and inflammation and by mobilizing fat stored in the liver and on the body into the powerful ketone energy molecule β-hydroxybutyrate (βHB). 

Interestingly, the researchers hypothesize that the role autophagy plays in releasing BHB is the key factor in the neuroprotective properties associated with both keto diets and autophagy.

How to Autophagy Fast? 

A bare-bones approach to successfully kick your body into autophagy is to simply restrict your eating to a 6-8 hour window during the day. 

16-8-Intermittent-Fast table

The 16/8 approach is a tried and true intermittent fasting plan that’s often a gateway into more intensive fasting protocols. OMAD, or one meal a day may be ideal for autophagy fasting when combined with ultra-satiating foods on a high-fat low-carb diet. 


Autophagy Fasting combined Low-Carb High-Fat


It is also possible to activate autophagy without fasting by consuming a high-fat low-carb ketogenic diet. But then you’d miss out on the other benefits of fasting

We recommend combining intermittent fasting with high-fat low-carb eating

High-fat low-carb approaches like Mediterranean keto and the all-meat carnivore diet provide dual benefits. 

  • Raising glycogen levels in your blood that trigger autophagy
  • Nourishing your refreshed and growing cells with the most nourishing foods on earth loaded with the building blocks of cell membranes and organelles including saturated fats, cholesterol, and micronutrients needed for healthy cell growth. 

image of ribeye steak with nutrients

It’s worth highlighting that combining meat-centered low-carb high-fat eating with intermittent fasting is a way of mimicking ancestral eating patterns. For nearly 2 million years hunter gatherers feasted on the fatty meat of giant animals (megafauna), and fasted between successful hunts.

No wonder that recreating this pattern confers so many powerful health benefits, including the vital process of autophagy. It’s the optimal way that evolution designed our bodies to receive and metabolize.   

7-Day Autophagy Fast Meal Plan

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7
LunchRibeye Steak and 2 eggs with blue cheese

Asparagus sauteed in ghee

3 scrambled eggs with creme fraiche & ½ avocadoPork Belly

3 Eggs

8 oz. Pork belly and 2 eggs with creme fraicheGround bison with butter and 2 eggs

and ½ avocado

4 scrambled eggs with  tallow and creme fraiche8 oz Tri-tip roast drenched in butter
Early Dinner8 oz Tri-tip roast drenched in butter8 oz bison burger, blue cheese

½ cup blackberries w/ heavy cream

12 oz. Beef short ribs Ribeye steak with 2 tbls tallow and raw

Oysters (6)

6 oz. Bone marrow

Zucchini  in ghee

8 oz wild salmon baked with creme fraiche6.5 oz Bison burger with 1.5

oz liver blended in 

Does coffee stop autophagy?

Coffee and tea without sugar or milk, sugar, or other additives may actually increase autophagy.

You can also have coffee and tea with butter for a nourishing ketogenic or carnivore snack during feeding periods. 

Autophagy Fasting: The bottom line

Autophagy is a process of cellular renewal that entails the elimination of damaged cell parts, regeneration of new cell parts, and even the death of cells. 

Research on autophagy reveals that it is a critical process that

  • Promotes longevity
  • supports heart health
  • modulates inflammation
  • protects against infection from bacteria and viruses
  • Protects against neurodegenerative diseases 

Intermittent fasting is a proven way to stimulate autophagy quickly. Combining autophagy fasting with a low-carb, high-fat diet centered around whole animal foods will nourish the autophagic process with an abundance of bioavailable nutrients needed to grow and restore healthy cells. 

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