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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Intermittent Fasting arrow When Does Autophagy Start? Signs and Benefits

When Does Autophagy Start? Signs and Benefits

Written by Dennis Njoroge
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 15, 2023
4 min read 2528 Views 0 Comments
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Autophagy is the natural process of cellular quality control where the body cleans out and repairs damaged cells to regenerate new, healthy cells. However, you might be wondering, “when does autophagy start?”

The process of autophagy starts when insulin and blood glucose levels considerably drop. This article will outline how autophagy occurs and the signs of autophagy.

When Does Autophagy Start?

Autophagy starts when cells are under stress, and there are different ways of inducing autophagy. These include exercise, fasting, and using curcumin.

Autophagy is part of the metabolic process where cells convert food to energy to help them grow and divide.

Curcumin will increase autophagy by activating the AMPK signaling pathway. The amp-activated protein kinase (AMPK) leads to autophagy as AMPK is a cellular regulator that plays a crucial role in regulating cell growth and reprogramming the body’s metabolic health.

Exercise and fasting promote autophagy by increasing the body’s metabolic rate, lowering blood sugar levels, and inducing fat burning which further leads to autophagy.

How to induce autophagy?

Autophagy starts when the body is under certain stress conditions such as calorie restriction, exercise, and fasting. There are also some foods and medications that induce autophagy.

However, intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways to induce autophagy. This is because fasting does not give the body an extra load, and it takes a break to focus on health and cellular repair.

Signs of Autophagy

Following a ketogenic diet can stimulate autophagy, where your body enters ketosis and starts to burn fat instead of sugar. 

You cannot physically feel autophagy, but there are some common noticeable symptoms of autophagy. These signs include:

#1 Weight loss

Autophagy does not lead to weight loss, but calorie restriction and fat burning during ketosis lead to weight loss and support healthy body composition. The body’s recomposition increases insulin sensitivity and more lean muscle mass.

By affecting insulin resistance and hormones such as ghrelin, autophagy decreases your hunger levels, consuming less food, consequently promoting weight loss and reducing your calorie intake.

The autophagy process also plays a crucial role in fat metabolism, breaking down fat cells.

#2 Bad breath

Bad breath is one of the common signs that the human body has entered ketosis. 

The ketone levels increase when the body is in ketosis, resulting in autophagy and unpleasant breath. The unpleasant breath is from a ketone known as acetone.

#3 Fatigue

Autophagy is linked to fatigue and low energy levels. This is because following a ketogenic diet causes low blood sugar levels that contribute to fatigue.

Fortunately, this side effect is temporary, as research suggests energy levels increase with time as your body adapts to the ketogenic diet.

Fatigue can also result from nutrient deficiency and other underlying conditions, so if symptoms persist, it is best to consult your doctor.

#4 Improved brain function

Autophagy plays a critical role in brain function and the health of brain cells and nerve cells.

Scientific evidence shows that the benefits associated with intermittent fasting are mainly due to autophagy.

Ketones are also an excellent energy source for the brain. That’s why some studies suggest a keto diet may help treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Autophagy Benefits

Autophagy has numerous health benefits, and studies show that programmed cell death in autophagy is crucial for the functioning of cellular components.

One of the benefits of autophagy is slowing down the aging process by creating younger cells. Disassembling dysfunctional or damaged cells increases longevity. During cellular stress, autophagy increases to protect our bodies.

One of the hallmarks of degenerative diseases is the accumulation of misfolded proteins. These are specific organelles, damaged components, and protein complexes. Autophagy removes harmful material and toxic proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases.

It also inhibits liver disease by eliminating toxins and damaged organelles related to associated liver diseases.

As we age, autophagy declines, and the body may allow old cells to multiply, which is how cancer cells develop. Cancerous cells start as defective cells, and autophagy plays a role in lowering cancer risk.

At a cellular level, autophagy benefits cell components by recycling dysfunctional proteins into amino and fatty acids, regenerating healthy cells providing energy to cells after repair. It also decreases oxidative stress and improves waste elimination in the body.

Overall, autophagy reduces inflammation, improves hormonal balance, and supports the immune system’s early detection of cancer cells and tumor formation outside the cellular level.

When Does Autophagy Peak?

Animal studies show that autophagy begins after about 24 hours of fasting and starts peaking after 48 hours, then starts decreasing gradually. In other words, autophagy starts when glucose and insulin levels considerably drop.

A Word From Our RD

The word autophagy technically means self-eating.

It makes sense that eating patterns like ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting trigger autophagy. When the body is fasting for an extended period, it is not overwhelmed by an external load, and it has time to focus on its health and repair.

A shift in calorie sources from glucose to ketone bodies shifts metabolic pathways and causes the body to use fat as fuel instead of glucose. This makes the body go low on sugar, shifting it into cellular survival and repairing mode.

Intense exercise also induces autophagy by increasing the body’s metabolic rate. Autophagy has neuroprotective functions and is associated with numerous health benefits.

However, one should consult a doctor first if they are breastfeeding, pregnant, have cardiovascular disease or another chronic condition before making any dietary shifts to promote autophagy.


Autophagy has a significant impact on our health, but when does this process start?

We can induce autophagy through fasting and exercise and peaks after fasting for 48 hours. Autophagy repairs and recycles damaged cell components and is linked to treating certain neurodegenerative disorders.

It also helps prevent cancer development, reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy weight. There is still a lot to learn about autophagy and how it can be used as a supportive treatment for various diseases. Consult with your doctor first before starting intermittent fasting to kickstart autophagy.

Written by Dennis Njoroge
Dennis is a seasoned writer who focuses on writing health and wellness articles. His career goal is to educate people on how to reprogram their lives by breaking free from unhealthy eating habits and fostering new sustainable habits. Dennis tries to give easy-to-follow advice based on scientific research. He strongly believes that regardless of age, fitness level, a person can always learn something new and reach their health goals if they have a positive mindset.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Dennis Njoroge
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 15, 2023
4 min read 2528 Views 0 Comments

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