There’s a New Word in Wellness: Autophagy

The following is a guest post from Dr. Amy Shah.

If you haven’t heard of Autophagy, it’s time you should.  It is a new word circulating in science and wellness circles, and with good reason. Literally translating to “eating of self", autopaghy is a self-cleaning mechanism of our cells.  Think of it as a housekeeper that sweeps away cellular debris, breaks it apart and recycles the parts into fuel. Without this self-cleansing, cells would be overcome with damaged, unnecessary fragments and pathogens, malfunction and die. 

So, why should you care about autophagy? Well, here’s why:

How To Activate Autophagy 

1 - Intermittent Fasting (short periods without food) 

Eating slows down autophagy so that all the cool things above come to a halt.

It is theorized autophagy came about as a reaction to nutrient stress at times of starvation.

Makes sense right? Just as you might find yourself making use of limp carrots or the apple rinds when food is low, cells evolved to scavenge gratuitous pieces and convert them to energy.  

So periods when food is absent – “fasting state”– is when autophagy is ramped into action. 

Autophagy may explain the research that intermittent fasting helps regulate the aging process and neuronal damage that causes diseases like Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s and why it is so detoxifying.  

Start with an early dinner and a late breakfast so that you have at least 12 hours between meals. Do this 2-3 times a week and then you can increase slowly to 13, 14,15 or even 16 hour fasts. 

2 - Exercise

The rate of autophagy increases when cells are starved or stressed.

Exercise certainly creates stress  – physiologically and mentally – increasing the breakdown of cells and cellular debris and kicking that inner housekeeper into overdrive.

That also means the harder the workout, the harder the kick to that housekeeper.

So if you were looking for that extra motivation to go the extra mile, take that power yoga class, or start a consistent exercise regime, the scouring and rebuilding of your cells should give you that extra push.

Exercising (whether it’s organized activity like the gym or just plain walking) is the easiest thing you can do every day to turn on autophagy. Aim for 45-60 minutes. 

3 - Flavonoids

Research suggests flavonoids induce autophagy.  Flavonoids are phytonutrients, or plant chemicals, found in almost every whole food.  There are over 6000 types of flavonoids such as silibinin, found in milk thistle, and naringin, found in abundantly in citrus fruits.

This is great news as flavonoids are abundant in most vegetables, nuts, tree fruits, herbs and spices…and red wine and dark chocolate!

Parsley, onions, dark berries, black and green tea and bananas are other potent sources of flavonoids.

Eating a whole foods plant based diet has another benefit-- autophagy! Aim for 4-6 servings of plants every day.

So now that you know what Autophagy is, get your intermittent fast, workout, and tea & vegetable groove on today and start to activate this amazing process!


Who is Amy Shah MD?

Amy Shah, M.D. is a double board certified MD with training from Cornell, Columbia and Harvard Universities. She was named one of Mindbodygreen's Top 100 Women In Wellness to Watch in 2015 and has been a guest on many national and local media including Dr. Oz, Bulletproof radio, and the Greatist.

She helps busy people transform their health by reducing inflammation and eating more plants. As an immunologist she realizes the power of the microbiome to help digestion, natural hormone balance and food sensitivities. See more at