In our quest for health we sometimes overlook how important it is to support our body’s own natural processes and innate wisdom.
What is autophagy?
The word autophagy originates from Ancient Greek — autós (self) and phagein (to eat). So it literally means ‘to eat oneself’. As unsettling as this may sound autophagy is actually a good thing. Why? Because it is your body’s way of eating and destroying parts of the cell — organelles (tiny cells within cells), proteins and cell membranes — that are no longer functioning properly.
The autophagy process
Autophagy is in fact a natural biological process. The key player in this process are lysosomes, tiny cells that contain a range of enzymes needed to break down and digest parts of the cell that no longer work and are obsolete. You could think of lysosomes as hungry pacmans searching and gobbling up all broken down parts of the cell that it can find.
However, there is a dark side to autophagy because these pacmans (the lysosomes) are so efficient that a state of prolonged autophagy can even lead to cell death, a process called autolysis. Our body needs a certain amount of autophagy to take place in order to renew itself, however too much is detrimental to our health.
Why is autophagy so important?
Without a regular clean out of any junk that we have lying around in our cells, our cells become burdened by this junk and begin to deteriorate, becoming less efficient. If our cells do not function properly, our body is more susceptible to degeneration.
Colin Champ, M.D., a board-certified radiation oncologist, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and author of Misguided Medicine explains:
“Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.”
Evidence backs this up by suggesting that autophagy plays a part in controlling inflammation and immunity, and that it is a factor in neurodegeneration.   This natural biological process is certainly one that we want to be paying attention to.
How does autophagy affect cellular health?
The autophagy process is crucial to maintaining healthy cells. Our cells need regular spring-cleaning of faulty and inefficient parts to avoid oxidative stress—an imbalance between damage-causing free radicals and the antioxidants needed to prevent damage and neutralize the free radicals. As you can see, without autophagy our body can quickly enter a state of oxidative stress that leads to inflammation.
Not only that, autophagy is necessary if you want to maintain muscle strength, particularly as you age. Muscle stem cells, also known as satellite cells, are responsible for the repair of muscle tissue. As luck would have it, as we age we become more deficient in these much needed stem cells and the function of autophagy declines as well. However, by improving the autophagy process— i.e. spring-cleaning your cells on a regular basis —your muscle stem cells are able to continue their job of repair and renewal of your tissues.
We all need our body to perform this process of internal cleansing however, older individuals and athletes have an even greater need to optimise the process of autophagy in order to maintain and promote vital muscle strength.
How to activate autophagy and help your body cleanse itself
We already know that exercise is good for us and we now have even more reason to keep moving our body, because exercise is key to activating autophagy and instigating cellular renewal. Autophagy occurs in response to stress. When you exercise your body your muscles and tissues experience mild stress, which stimulates growth and activates and boosts the autophagy process 
With intermittent fasting, again we see how the autophagy process is activated when we put our body under mild stress. When we undertake a short-term fast, the hormone insulin goes down while the hormone glucagon increases, this is because the role of glucagon is to prevent blood glucose levels from dropping too low. It is the increase in glucagon that activates the autophagy process. In fact intermittent fasting is an incredibly effective way of boosting autophagy.  
By following a low carbohydrate diet (50 grams or less a day) we induce ketosis — a state where our liver starts to produce ketones that become the primary source of fuel for our bodies, as opposed to glucose from carbohydrate consumption. Just as with exercise and intermittent fasting, this process activates autophagy sending a signal to our bodies to begin spring-cleaning our cells.
Our health depends upon the health of our cells. That is why our body has the inbuilt mechanism of autophagy to regularly revitalize our cells. At Xtend-Life we understand how important it is to support this process and we created our Total Balance range of supplements with exactly this in mind. All of our Total Balance products are designed to support your body at the cellular level and improve cellular function. Our aim is to help you create healthy cells, the foundation of a healthy body.