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Autophagy Dysfunction And Immunity

Earlier this week I discussed a new meta analysis titled Intermittent fasting, a possible priming tool for host defense against SARS-CoV-2 infection, has made some impressive findings about the benefits of fasting, specifically autophagy fasting, in promoting health and preventing COVID-19.  

As I dove deeper into the science, I found more and more research around “autophagy dysfunction” and what that means for your immunity and lung health. Given the state of the world right now, our health and immune strength is incredibly important, and autophagy plays a vital role in clearing out dysfunctional parts of cells, so the cell can be more receptive to making energy and participating in a healthy immune response. 

First, a refresher on autophagy:

Autophagy is a natural, regulatory mechanism inside the cell that instructs the body to clean out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells. Keep in mind, autophagy is different from ketosis. There are many ways to stimulate autophagy, which I will go into below, and one of those ways is through fasting. 

Benefits of autophagy:

  • Clears infections, pathogens, viruses, bacteria (xenoautophagy) from cells
  • Repairs cellular proteins (macroautophagy)
  • Participates in innate & adaptive immune response
  • Activates macrophages
  • Removes damaged mitochondria
  • Dictates the length of cilia responsible of pathogen clearing in the respiratory tract

When it comes to viruses like COVID-19, the magic of autophagy is in its ability to clear out infections, pathogens, viruses, bacteria. The study I looked at went as far as to say: “Autophagy launches a robust immune response against the invading pathogens, which if successful, results in pathogen elimination or clearance. Thus, providing proof-of-concept evidence in support of autophagy augmentation strategies for alleviating respiratory exacerbations in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), acute lung injury (ALI), acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).”

In the respiratory tract specifically, autophagy has even been shown to dictate the length of cilia in the mucosal lining of our lungs. The longer the cilia, the more capable the lungs are at clearing pathogens from the airways. So you can see how important autophagy is to our health and avoiding respiratory viruses, like COVID-19. 

On the flip side, autophagy dysfunction can result in an accumulation of bad proteins, cellular debris, and an exaggerated inflammatory response to pathogens progression, aka a cytokine storm. 

Autophagy Dysfunction:

Things that contribute to autophagy dysfunction:

  • Poor diet, eating foods that induce oxidative stress or are pro-inflammatory such as processed and artificial foods, bad oils and sugars. 
  • Cigarette smoke & vaping
  • Age
  • Biomass smoke
  • Air pollution

Autophagy Foods:

To help stimulate autophagy there are two great ways that I recommend. First, avoid all the things I mentioned above that cause dysfunction! Sounds simple, yet it is usually the most over-looked when I talk with people. Second, add in some great autophagy boosting foods to your diet such as:

  • Coffee
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginseng
  • Garlic
  • Chaga and reishi mushrooms
  • Pomegranate 
  • Elderberries
  • Bergamot (found in Earl Grey tea)
  • MCT oil 

Autophagy Teas:

A great way to get these autophagy boosting foods into your life is through teas. I’ve been loving Pique Teas because their teas are triple toxicant screened for heavy metals, mold, pesticides and radioactive isotopes, making them one of the purest teas out there! My favorite autophagy stimulating flavors are Electric Turmeric, Pu’er Green Tea,  a classic Earl Grey, Chaga Energy Elixir (for mornings) and the Reishi Calming Elixir (for night time). You cannot go wrong with any of their teas. Use code PELZ for 5% discount.

When it comes to coffee, you want to be weary of mold, mycotoxins and pesticides. Look for high quality coffee that is organically grown and tests for these harmful compounds. I personally use Camano Coffee, you can listen to my interview with TJ Fittis Is Coffee Bad For You?

Autophagy Activities:

  1. Fast regularly for 17-72 hrs
  2. Keep protein under 20 grams
  3. Eat a high fat, low carb diet 
  4. Get out in nature
  5. Release trauma: guilt, regret, bitterness and resentment
  6. HIIT training
  7. Quality sleep
  8. Biohack with Hyperbaric Oxygen and Red light therapy. If you’re looking for an at home red light therapy device, we use the JOOVV light in our clinic and JOOVV makes a handheld GO size and a MINI size that’s perfect for home use. Also, here is great research on HBOT and autophagy, which I also offer in my clinic.

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