Autophagy for heart health (Pt. 2)

What Is autophagy?

Autophagy, from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘self-devouring’, is the natural, orderly, regulated mechanism of the cell that disassembles unnecessary or dysfunctional components (4) like broken down, old cell machinery (organelles, proteins and cell membranes) when there’s no longer enough energy to sustain them (5).

This happens as part of a healthy cell’s life cycle of breaking down, repair, and regeneration (6). What is important to point out is that autophagy is essential for maintaining good health. Even though it may sound negative, autophagy is a highly regulated and controlled process, if it was not so it would be detrimental for our health (5). Age, stress, and free radical stress however, cause our cells to become damaged at an increased rate (7).

Autophagy was first described in 1962 when researchers noted an increase in the number of lysosomes (the part of the cell containing the enzymes that break down molecules ) (8) in rat liver cells after infusing glucagon. The Nobel prize winning scientist Christian de Duve coined the term ‘autophagy’.

How does autophagy work?

The process happens at the sub-cellular level and it is quite different from apoptosis (cell death), where the whole cell is disposed of. Autophagy allows the body to remove parts of the cell that are no longer working, like old sub-cellular organelles and replace them for new ones, leaving the working parts intact (5). It would be similar to replacing your car’s battery rather than buying an entire new car. In this manner, old cell membranes, organelles, unused proteins and other cellular debris are marked for destruction and can be removed, by sending them to the lysosome.

This old cellular debris is then converted to amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which can then be transported throughout the body for use (6). These amino acids can be used in three different ways:

  1. They are used in cases of starvation, like is the case of fasting.
  2. They are delivered to the liver for gluconeogenesis, the manufacture of glucose for energy.
  3. They are incorporated into new proteins (5).

This form of cellular cleansing, where the body identifies old and substandard cellular equipment and marks it for destruction is what allows the body to get rid of intracellular pathogenic microbes like: yeast, mold, fungus, viruses, bacteria (9), candida (10), etc.

Without this process of self cleansing, these dysfunctional parts of the cell would still linger inside tissues and organs, leading to inflammation, pain and contribute to various diseases as well as accelerated aging (7). This would be the case of two main conditions: Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and cancer. Alzheimer’s Disease involves the accumulation of abnormal proteins, either amyloid beta or Tau protein which gums up the brain. It would make sense that a process like autophagy, which has the ability to clear out old protein, could prevent the development of AD (5).

These protein structures that get stuck in the brain, are also found in Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and strokes. They are considered a type 3 diabetes because they are caused by excess insulin. This is another reason why changing to a low insulin diet is crucial. Interestingly, high cholesterol is also a sticky protein, as the name ‘high density lipo-protein’ implies, which can also be removed by lowering insulin. By healing insulin, health conditions like brain fog and memory problems can be addressed because the brain can get the fuel it needs (11).

What activates autophagy? 

Of all the different things that activate autophagy, fasting and intermittent fasting provide the greatest known boost to autophagy (12). Fasting can be considered a healthy form of stress. However, in our modern world of massive food production, fasting is probably not even thought of, but there was a time when food was more scarce and the human body was faced with extended periods of time without food. Also, it was faced with more physical requirements in order to stay alive. In those times of stress, the body became more efficient at protecting us against many types of chronic diseases. This is because acute stress provides us with a stimulus to create more beneficial cellular components (like in our immune system). It also is a stimulus to remove more harmful ones (like faulty cells and cancer).

Plenty of research shows that calorie restriction increases longevity and decreases many chronic diseases.  Intermittent fasting (IF), involves periodic fasts of anywhere from 12-18 hours, to as long as 72 hours.

Fasting activates a hormone that is opposite of insulin called ‘glucagon’. When we eat, insulin goes up and glucagon goes down. When we don’t eat insulin goes down and glucagon goes up. Fasting is actually far more beneficial than just stimulating autophagy. It does two good things:

  1. It clears old proteins and cellular parts.
  2. It also stimulates human growth hormone (HGH): HGH is a hormone that preserves protein in the body, this means: hair, nails, skin, collagen, muscle, tendons, ligaments and bone. HGH is good for the heart because the arteries are mainly made of protein. Low HGH would make arteries more rigid which would increase blood pressure. HGH also influences cell growth, cell reproduction, cell regeneration, helps the body retain calcium, etc. This hormone starts to decline at the age of 40 approximately, but fasting helps to stimulate it. Other factors that increase this hormone are removing sugar from the diet, vitamin B3, exercise and the amino acid arginine (13).

How long do you have to fast for autophagy?

Studies suggest that fasts between 24–48 hours probably have the strongest effects, but this isn’t always doable for many people. Anything between 12 and 36 hours at a time is enough to activate autophagy.

Benefits of fasting for heart health

One of the most impressive intermittent fasting benefits is its favorable effect on heart health. Studies show that intermittent fasting improves heart health by lowering certain heart disease risk factors. In one study, fasting was shown to increase good HDL cholesterol and decrease triglyceride levels.

In other studies, like the animal study done by the ‘Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry’ it was shown that intermittent fasting caused an increase in levels of adiponectin, a protein involved in the metabolism of fat and sugar that may be protective against heart disease and heart attacks. Rats who fasted every other day were nearly 66 % more likely to survive a heart attack than those on a normal diet (7).

Exercise: healthy stress

Another way to increase autophagy, apart from fasting, is exercise. Animal studies have shown that acute exercise turns on autophagy in skeletal and cardiac muscle cells. Autophagy also is turned on in the pancreas and the liver during exercise.  Studies conducted on mice running on treadmills, found that autophagy was turned on after 30 minutes of exercise, but plateaued after 80 minutes, suggesting that long, chronic cardio, is not necessarily better than acute, high-impact exercise but shorter busts of exercise.

Something important to remember about exercise is that it allows the lymph system to drain toxins from the body. According to research, around 3 pounds of plaque and other toxins from the brain each year. This same effect happens all through the body, as recent research reveals. In a new study published in ‘Scientific Reports’, doctors identified what they think may be the body’s 80th organ: the interstitium. The interstitium is a widespread network of connective tissue that surrounds nearly every organ system in the body. It is mostly found surrounding the digestive and respiratory systems and under the skin (these are all concentrations of lymphatic tissue).

Previously thought as simply dense connective tissue, researchers discovered that the interstitium is actually a series of interconnected fluid-filled sacs. According to the study, the interstitial space is the primary source of lymph and a major fluid compartment for the body (17).

Exercise and autophagy

When it comes to exercising, recent research has shown that exercise induces autophagy in multiple organs involved in metabolic regulation, such as muscle, liver, pancreas and adipose tissue. While exercise has many benefits, it’s actually a form of stress because it breaks down tissues, causing them to be repaired and grow back stronger. It’s not exactly clear yet how much exercise is needed to boost autophagy, but research does suggest that intense exercise is probably most beneficial.

In skeletal and cardiac muscle tissue, as little as 30 minutes of exercise can be sufficient to induce autophagy. Most people find that they can exercise while fasting without running into energy deficits. This is only because when fasting is done correctly we are increasing the nutrient reserves in the body.

The ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet has also been proven to be a way to produce autophagy in the body. As we saw,this way of eating makes short-term fasts quite easy by removing the rebound hunger pangs of insulin fluctuation. In this manner, it is not hard to skip a breakfast here or there, resulting in a 15-hour fast.

When we eat a low-carbohydrate diet, our liver starts producing ketones, which are a source of fuel for our bodies and brains when carbohydrates are not around. Ketones also appear to have properties that protect our brain from damage and aging. In fact, there are even trials showing that they improve cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Other things that activate autophagy , although to a lesser degree are: olive oil, the cruciferous vegetables, vitamin D3, vitamin B3, tea, coffee (but not in great amounts) and coconut oil (14).

What turns off autophagy?

Autophagy is active in all cells but is increased in response to stress or nutrient deprivation. It is unique to fasting, caloric restriction or dieting will not cause autophagy. Eating, glucose, insulin (or decreased glucagon) and proteins all turn off this self-cleaning process. Even a small amount of amino acid (leucine) could stop autophagy.

Benefits of autophagy

Autophagy is beneficial in preventing diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiomyopathy, diabetes, liver disease, autoimmune diseases and infections.

Autophagy has many anti-aging benefits because it helps destroy and reuse damaged components occurring in vacuoles (spaces within cells). It works by using waste produced inside cells to create new ‘building materials’ that aid in repair and regeneration. Autopaghy also is known for regrowing new heart cells and protecting against heart disease (15).

Other benefits are:

  1. Enhanment of the immune system by eliminating intracellular pathogens
  2. Defending against misfolded, toxic proteins that contribute to a number of amyloid diseases.
  3. Protecting our DNA
  4. Preventing damage to healthy tissues and organs (known as necrosis)
  5. Protection against neurodegenerative disease and other illnesses
  6. Suppresses cancer and tumor formation by blocking over-proliferation of cells: when errors happen within the DNA of cells or they start reproducing more than they should, autophagy destroys these mutated cells that would otherwise lead to cancer.
  7. Regulation of our immune system to fight future infections
  8. Supplies us with energy during times of fasting

As a result, autophagy Reduces:

  1. Cancer
  2. Insulin resistance
  3. Infections
  4. Aging
  5. Heart Disease
  6. Neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, etc.)
  7. Inflammation

In Summary

Autophagy is a process of cellular recycling that effectively removes old, damaged cell parts. This built-in process in our body is enhanced when we follow a diet low in processed carbohydrates and high in nutrient dense foods. Only when the body has built the reserves of nutrients it needs can fasting be done safely, and years of damage caused by high carbohydrate intake can be reversed. Fasting instigates changes in our body that allow the healing process to start. Supplements like the ‘Heart and Body Extract’ can help in this sense by providing a concentrated amount of nutrients the body needs in order to heal.

Thank you for reading.


Autophagy for heart health (Pt. 1)

Health starts at the cellular level. We have talked extensively about the nutrients needed by a cell to produce energy and function properly, and about the fact that a cell produces waste that needs to be disposed of. In our previous blog we started talking about a process of cell cleansing known as autophagy. We saw it is one of the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Autophagy seems to have a special significance for heart health. Research has shown that this process of cellular cleaning is increased in the heart due to some conditions such as myocardial ischemia, ischemia reperfusion and hypertension. The reason for this seems to point to an increase in cellular stress that causes the accumulation of aggregated proteins and organelles. In cases like these, the process of autophagy is necessary to sequester these damaged cellular components for degradation (1). In addition, most heart conditions seem to be directly related to a diet high in processed carbohydrates and sugar, as we pointed out in our previous blog. A process known as ‘lactic acidosis’ has been found to cause plaquing inside the arteries due to years of continual carbohydrate metabolism (2).

In today’s blog we will look deeper at the process of autophagy. We will explain what ‘lactic acidosis’ is and how it damages the arteries. We will also see how the ‘Heart and Body Extract’ can provide the needed nutrients to repair the damage done by years of high carbohydrate intake.

The lactic acid cycle

What would be another good reason to stay away from a high carbohydrate diet? The answer is in order to avoid the accumulation of acid waste. The metabolism of carbohydrates produces waste products like lactate, acetate, acetaldehyde and ethanol which are poisons to the body. A diet high in carbohydrates over a long period of time can also cause a deficiency of the B vitamins, which prevents the liver from cleaning these waste products. An accumulation of these waste products causes a build up of acid in the body, condition known as ‘lactic acidosis’. These acids then enter the circulatory system and deplete the blood of oxygen (hypoxia). This hypoxic blood causes the arteries to dilate and the circulation to slow down. The little capillaries, engorged with toxic and hypoxic blood, are unable to feed the cells, which causes cell starvation and cell death (2).

Dr. Royal Lee, the father of holistic nutrition, theorized that this toxic blood damages the arteries, and in order to protect the inner membrane inside of the arteries from this toxic overload, the body starts depositing cholesterol. There are other suspected causes for this arterial plaquing such as blood clots and nutritional deficiencies that cause the arteries to be weakened and rupture. This is the case of vitamin C deficiency, that causes a tear inside the arterial wall. Calcium has been found in these deposits but because vitamin C is needed to heal the arteries, it is more important to address this issue by correcting this deficiency (2). For this, healing insulin resistance is necessary because high insulin blocks vitamin C absorption.

As we saw, the ketogenic diet is a very important tool to stop sugar cravings because it switches the fuel source to fat, rather than sugar and foods that turn quickly into sugar. Another reason the ketogenic diet is important in this case of arterial plaquing is because the ketogenic diet allows the body to burn its own body fat so it lowers cholesterol, triglycerides, cleans visceral fat embedded in the liver, pancreas, and clogged arteries. What is more, by making this fat in our body more fluid, the calcium deposited in the arteries can become more ionized and be allowed to be released more easily.

There are other ways this calcium inside the musculature of our arteries can be removed and that is by supplementing with phosphorus, which pushes calcium out, and with both vitamins K2 and D3, as they soften calcified tissue (16).

The real vitamin C

Dr. Darren Schmidt, DC explains that for the body to get the real benefits of vitamin C, one needs to supplement with whole food sources. This is because vitamin C is a complex molecule that has various nutrients and factors, these are:

  1. Ascorbigen
  2. Bioflavonoid complexes
  3. Rutin
  4. Tyrosine
  5. Organic copper
  6. P factors
  7. K factors
  8. Ascorbic acid

He explains that vitamin C is crucial in healing arteries because it acts as a glue that holds the collagen together. Because sugar raises insulin, and too much insulin blocks nutrient absorption, this means that vitamin C can never enter the cell to heal damaged arteries (2). This is why it is essential to heal insulin resistance.

The ‘Heart and Body Extract’ is high in vitamin C

The ingredients in the “Heart and Body Extract” are a good source of the whole vitamin C complex. Cayenne is also very high source of vitamins A, and the complete B complex while being rich in organic calcium and potassium, as well as vitamin C. Hawthorne contains vitamin C, pectin and other substances. Therefore, it is primarily used to treat the heart’s blood vessels. Bilberry contains pectin, quercetin, vitamins A, B, and C which makes it a natural antioxidant. Bilberry also has the property of lowering blood sugar therefore it can be used for diabetes. This effect is probably due to the flavonoid quercetin which is the main active ingredient in the herb (3).

Tests for the heart

In order to calculate the amount of calcium within arteries, there are two tests that can be performed:

  1. Coronary artery calcium score: It is a CT scan that takes 5 minutes to conduct. It is measured from 0 to 4,000, 0 meaning there is a 0% chance of having a heart attack in the next 15 years.
  2. Post-prandial insulin: It measures the metabolic rate through the whole body. This is directly related to the consumption of carbohydrates. When we eat them the blood sugar goes high and low, and the insulin has to catch up every time. After years of high insulin it continues to stay high which is a sign of chronic disease. One way this manifests is by turning bad genes on. This causes inflammation, inflammation causes pain. Sugar burning also causes pathological tissue to grow at a faster rate in the body. This can manifest as cysts, fibroids, tumors, moles, skin tags, etc (2).

How to stop the downward spiral

How can we take control of our dependency on sugar? It is not as simple as strong determination because when the body is in survival mode, which is what happens when we get our energy from sugar, the body is already in a state of high stress due to the low levels of nutrients available. We saw that we can reset our metabolism by switching the body to fat, which is a more stable and nutrient dense food source. Doing this will allow the body to safely fast, which will start the healing process. Years of sugar damage can be cleaned up with the process of autophagy.