Autophagy is a process by which the body balances its need for energy by consuming itself.  This happens at critical times of development and also when your body is nutrient deficient, something that can happen for a variety of reasons. Autophagy also plays a role in clearing out dead cells such as mitochondria, proteins and also intracellular pathogens. Besides elimination of waste cells, the process of autophagy also protects against genome instability helping prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes, liver diseases and infections.  Therefore autophagy is generally believed to be a positive response in your body.

There are broadly three types of autophagy – macro, micro and chaperone mediated autophagy. How this works is till under study but broadly this is a function of the cellular level at which autophagy is working in your body. In general this is believed to be a random process and the cells that are being self-consumed is a process of random selection. However, scientists are discovering evidence that this can be controlled and modulated to consume specific cells. This is significant for doctors and scientists dealing with neuro-degerative diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and also cancer all of which require your body to deal with specific build up of cells which are harming your body.

Autophagy is initiated through starvation or nutrient deficiency one of the reasons why it is believed in traditional medicine that fasting is good for people who have cellular damage in their bodies. There are various limitations to our understanding of autophagy and how specific cargo can be used to target self consumed degradation.  The significance of autophagy for prevention of diseases as well as aging is growing with evidence growing  in it its ability to deal with cancer, heart disease and auto-immune diseases.  In neuropathies such as Huntington’s, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s, autophagy is more widely accepted as beneficial. If you have someone in your family or know of someone pre-disposed to these diseases, definitely speak to your doctor about autophagy.


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.