Signs of Autophagy: 5 Ways to Tell If Your Autophagy Process Is Active

Written by Stephen Anton PhD on April 1st, 2022

Man standing with thumbs after seeing positive signs of autophagy

Autophagy, which technically means self-eating, is an “evolutionary conserved process” through which our cells remove waste products and damaged particles.

When we accumulate damaged particles and waste products, they must be removed so that our cells can function more efficiently.

Almost all cells use this process for survival and ultimately for growth. For this reason, some call the process of autophagy the “fountain of youth.”

While this is an amazing process, in order to make sure it is working in our bodies, it is important to understand the signs of autophagy.

First, let’s learn a little more about autophagy, and then we will cover a few areas that can help you identify if autophagy is active in your body.

What Exactly Is Autophagy?

In simple terms, you can think of autophagy as your body’s way of taking out the trash. First, you put trash or waste in a trash bag, and when it is filled up you take it outside where it is eventually taken away.

In a very similar manner, your body traps waste products in little bags within your cells and then takes these waste bags into the bloodstream to be removed. Research over the past few decades has revealed how critical the process of autophagy is to our health.

Autophagy Creates Healthier Cells

Once your body has properly removed waste products, your cells can function more efficiently. Healthier cells produce less free radicals and inflammation (aka the bad guys) and more energy.

With less of the “bad guys” around, the body can use more of its resources to repair and recover instead of fighting the “bad guys.” Ultimately, your body will function more efficiently and effectively in every way.

When Does Autophagy Occur?

Autophagy occurs when we are in an energy deficit and our metabolic switch is flipped.

Flipping the metabolic switch occurs when our bodies expend glucose reserves and start using ketones, or our body fat, for energy.

Autophagy Main Triggers

Energy deficits, particularly sustained energy deficits, which are achieved while we are sleeping and/or practicing intermittent fasting or exercising for prolonged periods, are the primary triggers for autophagy.

Unfortunately, most people do not engage in lifestyles that produce temporary energy deficits sufficient to flip their metabolic switch, so that they are using ketones as a primary fuel source.

Without these temporary energy deficits, our body remains in the fed state and never quite achieves the fasted state required for autophagy to properly do its job.

Does Flipping the Metabolic Switch Activate Autophagy?

The short answer is yes.

When we fast for 12 or more hours or exercise for a prolonged period, we are able to flip our metabolic switch and shift our body’s energy source from glucose to ketones.

This has a very positive effect on the function of our mitochondria (energy producing molecules in the cell) and also activates the process of autophagy.

The switch is flipped in response to the temporary stress of low nutrient availability/intake (aka fasting) over a period of time.

The time frame is generally at least 12 hours and is considered a “hormetic response,” meaning it produces beneficial effects (e.g., improved health, increased stress tolerance, enhanced health-span) following the temporary stress.

The exact amount of time it takes to activate the metabolic switch depends on several factors, including an individual’s metabolic flexibility and the amount of energy expended during the fasting period.

Signs Your Metabolic Switch Has Been Activated:

You are very comfortable fasting for at least 12 hours

None or only minor feelings of hunger while fasting

Great focus and mental clarity

Energized yet calm feeling

Absence of headache, dizziness, and light-headed feelings

Once activated, it is important to not allow the body to go into “starvation mode,” as this may have negative effects on your metabolism and muscle mass.

5 Potential Signs of Autophagy

At this point in time, there is unfortunately no easy way to measure autophagy in humans. We do not have a universally recognized marker of autophagy or a test that can tell you your levels of autophagy.

Additionally, while autophagy is generally health promoting for the vast majority of people, it can in some instances be harmful if left unchecked. It’s all about balance.

If you have been diagnosed with Diabetes or are prone to hypoglycemia, it’s best to consult your physician before increasing the number of hours of fasting.

Taking these considerations into account, below are five potential indicators of amplified or enhanced autophagy:

1. Extra Bowel Movements

We all recognize that bowel movements are one of the main ways our body removes waste products.

For this reason, one sign of enhanced autophagy that almost no one talks about is increased bowel movements, specifically having an “extra” bowel movement during the fasting period.

Generally, one should feel better after the bowel movement, meaning more alert, focused and energized.

This insight came to me from both personal experience and speaking with friends and patients over the years about their experience during the fasting period.

2. Eye Debris

Another sign of autophagy taking place can be found in the eyes. We all have likely experienced debris around the eyes upon awaking from a deep sleep.

This “debris” is a combination of mucus, oil, skin cells and other waste products that accumulate in the corner of your eye while you sleep.

The same process occurs while we are fasting and may be amplified if we do certain activities, such as meditating, in the fasted state.

3. Musculoskeletal Releases

Yet another subtle sign that I believe is related to autophagy taking place within the body are spontaneous muscle releases or energetic impulses that occur during a fasting time-period.

Typically, the longer the fasting period, the more likely the releases are to happen.

4. Metallic Taste

Another possible sign of an activation of autophagy is a change in breath smell to a more “metallic” scent due to the ketosis process that happens when autophagy increases.

The ketone type that mainly causes this odor is called acetone and can be avoided by brushing your teeth or chewing gum.

5. Mild Hunger

For most people, the process of flipping the metabolic switch involves tolerating mild to moderate levels of hunger initially.

Over time, a reduced appetite may represent a sign of enhanced autophagy due to the effects lower glucose levels have on the hormones of glucagon and insulin.

Signs of Autophagy Summary

Until recently, the importance of autophagy for our health has not been well understood, which is somewhat surprising given its primary importance to cellular health and survival.

When autophagy is working properly, it not only improves cellular health but can have a positive effect on all areas of our body.

The five signs of autophagy outlined above can serve as a guide to help determine if this life sustaining process is working for you.

In addition to these signs, amplifying autophagy should ultimately provide an energy boost and may also lead to improved mental clarity.

If you do notice a few of the above signs, sit back and enjoy, as the process of autophagy is more than likely active and the full body benefits should follow shortly after.

More on intermittent fasting:

Does Coffee Break a Fast?

How to Break Out of an Intermittent Fasting Plateau

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Anton

I’ve had the privilege of studying the fields of obesity, metabolism, and aging for the past 20 years and felt an increasing desire to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible the past few years.

More About Dr. Anton
RECENT ARTICLES

Signs of Autophagy: 5 Ways to Tell If Your Autophagy Process Is Active

Written by Stephen Anton PhD on April 1st, 2022

Man standing with thumbs after seeing positive signs of autophagy

Autophagy, which technically means self-eating, is an “evolutionary conserved process” through which our cells remove waste products and damaged particles.

When we accumulate damaged particles and waste products, they must be removed so that our cells can function more efficiently.

Almost all cells use this process for survival and ultimately for growth.

For this reason, some call the process of autophagy the “fountain of youth.”

While this is an amazing process, in order to make sure it is working in our bodies, it is important to understand the signs of autophagy.

First, let’s learn a little more about autophagy, and then we will cover a few areas that can help you identify if autophagy is active in your body.

What Exactly is Autophagy?

In simple terms, you can think of autophagy as your body’s way of taking out the trash.

First, you put trash or waste in a trash bag, and when it is filled up you take it outside where it is eventually taken away.

In a very similar manner, your body traps waste products in little bags within your cells and then takes these waste bags into the bloodstream to be removed.

Research over the past few decades has revealed how critical the process of autophagy is to our health.

Autophagy Creates Healthier Cells

Once your body has properly removed waste products, your cells can function more efficiently.

Healthier cells produce less free radicals and inflammation (aka the bad guys) and more energy.

With less of the “bad guys” around, the body can use more of its resources to repair and recover instead of fighting the “bad guys.”

Ultimately, your body will function more efficiently and effectively in every way.

When Does Autophagy Occur?

Autophagy occurs when we are in an energy deficit and our metabolic switch is flipped.

Flipping the metabolic switch occurs when our bodies expend glucose reserves and start using ketones, or our body fat, for energy.

Autophagy Main Triggers

Energy deficits, particularly sustained energy deficits, which are achieved while we are sleeping and/or practicing intermittent fasting or exercising for prolonged periods, are the primary triggers for autophagy.

Unfortunately, most people do not engage in lifestyles that produce temporary energy deficits sufficient to flip their metabolic switch, so that they are using ketones as a primary fuel source.

Without these temporary energy deficits, our body remains in the fed state and never quite achieves the fasted state required for autophagy to properly do its job.

Does Flipping the Metabolic Switch Activate Autophagy?

The short answer is yes.

When we fast for 12 or more hours or exercise for a prolonged period, we are able to flip our metabolic switch and shift our body’s energy source from glucose to ketones.

This has a very positive effect on the function of our mitochondria (energy producing molecules in the cell) and also activates the process of autophagy.

The switch is flipped in response to the temporary stress of low nutrient availability/intake (aka fasting) over a period of time.

The time frame is generally at least 12 hours and is considered a “hormetic response,” meaning it produces beneficial effects (e.g., improved health, increased stress tolerance, enhanced health-span) following the temporary stress.

The exact amount of time it takes to activate the metabolic switch depends on several factors, including an individual’s metabolic flexibility and the amount of energy expended during the fasting period.

Signs Your Metabolic Switch Has Been Activated:

You are very comfortable fasting for at least 12 hours

None or only minor feelings of hunger while fasting

Great focus and mental clarity

Energized yet calm feeling

Absence of headache, dizziness, and light-headed feelings

Once activated, it is important to not allow the body to go into “starvation mode,” as this may have negative effects on your metabolism and muscle mass.

5 Potential Signs of Autophagy

At this point in time, there is unfortunately no easy way to measure autophagy in humans.

We do not have a universally recognized marker of autophagy or a test that can tell you your levels of autophagy.

Additionally, while autophagy is generally health promoting for the vast majority of people, it can in some instances be harmful if left unchecked.

It’s all about balance.

If you have been diagnosed with Diabetes or are prone to hypoglycemia, it’s best to consult your physician before increasing the number of hours of fasting.

Taking these considerations into account, below are five potential indicators of amplified or enhanced autophagy:

1. Extra Bowel Movements

We all recognize that bowel movements are one of the main ways our body removes waste products.

For this reason, one sign of enhanced autophagy that almost no one talks about is increased bowel movements, specifically having an “extra” bowel movement during the fasting period.

Generally, one should feel better after the bowel movement, meaning more alert, focused and energized.

This insight came to me from both personal experience and speaking with friends and patients over the years about their experience during the fasting period.

2. Eye Debris

Another sign of autophagy taking place can be found in the eyes.

We all have likely experienced debris around the eyes upon awaking from a deep sleep.

This “debris” is a combination of mucus, oil, skin cells and other waste products that accumulate in the corner of your eye while you sleep.

The same process occurs while we are fasting and may be amplified if we do certain activities, such as meditating, in the fasted state.

3. Musculoskeletal Releases

Yet another subtle sign that I believe is related to autophagy taking place within the body are spontaneous muscle releases or energetic impulses that occur during a fasting time-period.

Typically, the longer the fasting period, the more likely the releases are to happen.

4. Metallic Taste

Another possible sign of an activation of autophagy is a change in breath smell to a more “metallic” scent due to the ketosis process that happens when autophagy increases.

The ketone type that mainly causes this odor is called acetone and can be avoided by brushing your teeth or chewing gum.

5. Mild Hunger

For most people, the process of flipping the metabolic switch involves tolerating mild to moderate levels of hunger initially.

Over time, a reduced appetite may represent a sign of enhanced autophagy due to the effects lower glucose levels have on the hormones of glucagon and insulin.

Signs of Autophagy Summary

Until recently, the importance of autophagy for our health has not been well understood, which is somewhat surprising given its primary importance to cellular health and survival.

When autophagy is working properly, it not only improves cellular health but can have a positive effect on all areas of our body.

The five signs of autophagy outlined above can serve as a guide to help determine if this life sustaining process is working for you.

In addition to these signs, amplifying autophagy should ultimately provide an energy boost and may also lead to improved mental clarity.

If you do notice a few of the above signs, sit back and enjoy, as the process of autophagy is more than likely active and the full body benefits should follow shortly after.

More on intermittent fasting:

Does Coffee Break a Fast?

How to Break Out of an Intermittent Fasting Plateau

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Anton

I’ve had the privilege of studying the fields of obesity, metabolism, and aging for the past 20 years and felt an increasing desire to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible the past few years.

More About Dr. Anton
RECENT ARTICLES

Get the Introduction to Dr. Anton’s Upcoming Book: Magic Morning Routine

Take advantage of this 100% free PDF and learn how to create a morning routine that helps you feel and perform at your best.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dr. Anton

    I’ve had the privilege of studying the fields of obesity, metabolism, and aging for the past 20 years and felt an increasing desire to share what I’ve learned with as many people as possible the past few years.

    More About Dr. Anton
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    Get the Introduction to Dr. Anton’s Upcoming Book: Magic Morning Routine

    Take advantage of this 100% free PDF and learn how to create a morning routine that helps you feel and perform at your best.

      Get the Introduction to Dr. Anton’s Upcoming Book: Magic Morning Routine

      Take advantage of this 100% free PDF and learn how to create a morning routine that helps you feel and perform at your best.