What is Autophagy and how does it affect IBD?

It’s possible Inflammatory Bowel Disease and a host of other disorders come down to problems in a little known biological process called “autophagy” pronounced aa·taa·fuh·jee.

Autophagy is a mechanism in molecular biology by which cells rid themselves of unnecessary or dysfunctional components. The Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for discovering how “autophagosomes” (large spherical vesicles) begin to engulf portions of the cell and use them for energy.

Some of the most prevalent genetic mutations seen in IBD including the infamous NOD2 gene (seen in up 30-50% of CD patients in the Western Hemisphere) ATG16L1, and IRGM involve the mechanisms of autophagy.

 

How can we activate autophagy?

Activating autophagy in our own body is one of the most actionable things we can do. It doesn’t require a $7,000 medication or a $70,000 surgery.

It’s as easy as monitoring when we eat, how often, how much, and engaging in periods of fasting. When we fast, our body becomes stressed and cells begin to take measures to stay alive. They break down old proteins and other cellular materials that they use for energy. Think of this as the captain of a sinking ship ordering the crew to throw overboard the least needed items. As such in our cells, damaged cellular components are discarded.

Fasting has a profound effect on the immune system. A large percentage of the immune system is regenerated, reducing old inflammatory cells and molecules. There is very interesting anecdotal evidence with prolonged fasting with IBD and research suggests that a fasting-mimicking diet may be highly effective

In the world of IBD, and in promoting health in general, we have many tools in our belt. Let’s wake up and start paying attention.

Finding innovation and helping to apply it to human health is my life mission.