Over time, humans evolved to live longer because of our ability to respond better to biological stressors. Now, a Newcastle University study finds that this ability is due to small adaptations in a protein known as p62 that induce autophagy (“self-eating”), a vital process where your body cleans out damaged cells and toxins to help regenerate newer, healthier cells.
Autophagy is the key to improved human lifespan
Over time, our cells accumulate a variety of dead organelles, damaged proteins, and oxidized particles that clog their inner workings, accelerating aging, inducing dementia, and increasing the risk of cancer as well as other age-related diseases. Because many of our cells, like those in the brain, need to last a lifetime, the body has developed a unique way of getting rid of those faulty parts and defending itself naturally against disease. The body’s natural cleaning process, which recycles the junk in your cells and turns it into energy, is known as autophagy. There are several ways you can turn on your body’s autophagy process (that have nothing to do with juice cleanses). When you activate autophagy, you slow down the aging process, reduce inflammation, and boost your body’s natural ability to function.
Study reveals protein p62 induces autophagy
According to the Newcastle study, this is where a protein called p62 comes in. By sensing the metabolic byproducts that cause cell damage (called reactive oxygen species ROS), protein p62 activates to induce autophagy, or start cleaning. That’s when they remove all the damaged goods that have accumulated in your body, so that you’re better equipped to handle biological stress – and this is what keeps you young and healthy.
Researchers created genetically modified fruit flies with p62 – and they lived longer
While humans possess this capacity, lower organisms like fruit flies do not. So the research team set about identifying the part of human protein p62 that allows for the sensing of ROS. They then created genetically modified fruit flies with ‘humanised’ p62. The result? The ‘humanised’ flies survived longer in stressful conditions. “This tells us that abilities, like sensing stress and activating protective processes like autophagy, may have evolved to allow better stress resistance and a longer lifespan,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Viktor Korolchuk.
Go on a protein fast to induce your own autophagy
To cleanse your cells and reduce inflammation, and generally keep your body running in tip-top shape, you can take these simple actions to activate the autophagy process. Keep in mind that because autophagy is a response to stress, you need to trick your body into thinking it’s a little bit under siege. Here’s how:
Once or twice a week, limit your protein consumption to 15-25 grams. This gives your body a full day to recycle proteins, which will help reduce inflammation and cleanse your cells without any muscle loss. During this time, your body is forced to consume proteins and toxins that are already inside through autophagy. For more on safe and effective ways to go on a protein fast, read here.
3 more ways to conquer autophagy
Practice intermittent fasting. By skipping breakfast and eating all of your meals within an eight-hour window, you will increase your body’s inherent autophagy process. Like a protein-specific fast, intermittent fasting gives your body a chance to “catch up” on all those lingering toxins — by cleaning up in real-time. A 16–28 hour fast is known to be extremely useful to remove toxin build-up.
Eat a high-fat, low-carb diet. The keto diet (high-fat, low-carb) also gives you an edge you when it comes to autophagy. The shift from burning glucose (carbs) to ketones (fats) that occurs on a keto diet mimics what occurs naturally in a fasted state — and this increases autophagy in its own right.
Exercise using high-intensity interval training. HIIT exercise is another advantageous way to stimulate autophagy. Remember, exercise and autophagy are both bodily responses to stress, and high-intensity exercise puts you in the good-stress sweet spot. You’ll get just enough impact load to provoke muscular change (and autophagy) without harm. Aim for approximately 30 minutes a day to give your longevity an optimal boost.