Autophagy is a term that most people have never heard of. It won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for Yoshinori Ohsumi in 2016, and literally translates into “self-eating”. This concept emerged in the 1960’s when researchers observed that the cell could destroy its own contents and send those contents to a recycling compartment called a lysosome.
The body is very efficient, and Autophagy occurs whenever there are cells that are “faulty” (not functioning properly), they get broken down and recycled. The next obvious question is, how are these cells replaced? The way the body does this is by producing something called a Stem Cell.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explain that stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. They serve as an internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish and replace other cells.
The way these two concepts relate to long-term fasting is that these process’ occur during a 5 day (or longer) fast. Somewhere between day 3 and day 4 of a fast Autophagy occurs, and somewhere between day 4 and day 5 of a fast, stem cell production occurs. This is significant because it can be another reason to fast, aside from losing weight.
Because stem cells can repair faulty cells, and Autophagy kills cells that are beyond repair, this can be a way to help the body combat even the most debilitating diseases.