Optimal Autophagy and Stress: Improving Your Cell Cleanup and Regeneration (Episode 155)

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Optimal Autophagy and Stress: Improving Your Cell Cleanup and Regeneration (Episode 155)

Autophagy is the body's natural "cellular cleanup" and detoxification process. Dr. Doni explains how optimizing autophagy can have a significant positive effect on our overall health.
Autophagy is the body's natural detoxification process. Optimizing autophagy is key to preventing health issues and increasing longevity. Dr. Doni talks about how mastering our stress is a clear path to enhance autophagy and our overall health.

In today’s episode I am going to be talking about something called autophagy. Autophagy is how our bodies, and our cells do a clean out process and natural detoxification. It is an example of a process in our bodies that is responsive to our stress and toxin exposure. Optimizing autophagy has the potential to prevent health issues and increase longevity. However, too much of a good thing can also slow autophagy, so it is a matter of learning to choose just the right amount. 

Let’s dig in to understanding what supports autophagy, how it influences health, and what you can do to optimize your autophagy to work with you, and not against you.

What Is Autophagy?

Autophagy is amazing to understand because it has such power and influence on our health, and it’s happening all the time in our bodies without us even realizing it. And there are actually things you can do to help your body out with autophagy, but I want to make sure you know how to do them in a way that’s going to optimize autophagy the most and not overdo it. 

Our bodies do better when we give them just enough change and support to create a beneficial outcome, and not too much of a change that works against us.

Our bodies are made up of 100 trillion cells and those cells aren’t just sitting around. They are actively making energy for us to function. They’re making all of our processes work for us without us having to think about it. Our nerves cells, our muscle cells, our organs, our hormone glands, our brain, etc. Everything in our bodies is made of cells that are working for us constantly. 

So, how do our cells clean out? As we know, our bodies need to get rid of old cells and produce new healthy cells to keep us alive. So how is all this happening?

When I was getting my pre-med degree back in the early 90s, I came across this researcher who discovered autophagy and how this process works. His name is Yoshinori Ohsumi and he won the Nobel Prize for his research. He found out that our cells can identify which substances need to be recycled or taken out of the cell. Our cells break down and destroy old, damaged, or abnormal proteins and other substances in theircytoplasm (the fluid inside a cell). The breakdown products are then recycled for important cell functions, especially during periods of stress or starvation.

How Can We Support Optimal Autophagy? 

A lot of processes in our bodies are signaled by our exposure to stress. So, if we’re under a large amount of stress, if we have an infection, if we have an injury, anytime our body gets a stress signal it shifts the signaling for autophagy. This is why I always emphasize that it’s not about having zero stress – we need some stress to signal healthy autophagy. 

Our bodies also don’t do well with too much stress. So, how do we find just the right amount of stress to signal appropriate and healthy amounts of cell turnover in a cell cleanout and detoxification? How can we give our bodies the right state and setting to create the optimal signaling for autophagy? 

When autophagy is working well it’s helping to prevent aging. And aging is directly related to our bodies having more damaged cells than they need, or not being able to clean the substances that are not needed in our cells anymore. One example of this is Alzheimer’s disease. When the cells are not able to clean out the debris, this debris gets stuck in the cells, and it makes the nerves not work well, and so then we it affects our memory. Another example is cancer. When our bodies are not able to clean out damaged cells, then those cells can perpetuate and that’s when cancer progresses.

We need our bodies to be able to identify constantly what should be taken out or recycled and it’s our responsibility to support our bodies to keep this autophagy process running as efficiently and smoothly as possible. 

Which Activities Affect Autophagy? 

What affects this process? Our stress exposure, our diet and nutrient absorption, our sleep patterns, substance abuse, etc. If we’re pushing ourselves to the max and we’re not taking good care of our bodies, then this autophagy process and many others (like oxidative stress which I talk about in Episode #153 of How Humans Heal) will not work correctly, and then health issues start.

There is an optimal amount of stress exposure that our bodies need in order to have a favorable biological response, including autophagy. Take exercise for example, when we exercise our bodies trigger a stress response so we can endure the physical effort. Oxidative stress and antioxidant production like glutathione get a boost, it also signals autophagy. This is why exercise is good for us. It signals for our body to do a normal clean out process and reset all of these systems, dropping inflammation and increasing anti-aging effects. But if we overdo it, we will have too much autophagy, too much oxidative stress, inflammation, too much cortisol and we actually work against ourselves.

I think as humans this is one of the hardest things: to learn what’s enough and what’s too much. It requires us to be mindful and aware and to listen to our bodies and how we feel. There’s not a great test for autophagy that exists now, but some good ways to support optimal autophagy are moderate exercise and fasting. 

One way to get a sense of your status is with heart rate variability, which can be measured with an Apple watch or other device. If you are exercising in a way that reflects as an optimal heart rate variability, this translates to positive autophagy and hormesis. You’re likely to recover faster and feel better after the experience. 

In the case of fasting (or a period of time when you’re not eating) there’s research that shows that going for 10-12 hours without eating can stimulate autophagy. Again, it’s important to know your body because if you overdo it and go, let’s say, longer than 15 or 16 without eating, it may cause poor autophagy, and end up damaging cells and it could also raise cortisol levels and oxidative stress.

Another way to support optimal autophagy is cold water therapy. Doing short cold or ice baths can stimulate autophagy. This kind of therapy tells our cells that there’s a need to clean things out and either recycle substances or get rid of them. This is why it can be so invigorating, boost energy and focus, and even support weight loss because it resets metabolic processes in the body. Likewise, overdoing it can cause harm instead of good. There could be a risk of increased heart rate, blood pressure, arrhythmia and even heart issues. 

It’s always about balance, knowing your body and introducing changes in a gentle and safe way.

How Is Autophagy Related to Your Stress Type?

When it comes to these kinds of health optimization tools, which I think are very important to know about, I always want to use them based on what I call your stress type. Your stress type is related to your cortisol and adrenaline levels. Different kinds of stress types need different things to support optimal autophagy. They need different intensity in exercise, different intensity of fasting and different intensity in cold water therapy, different supplements, and different nutrients. 

Adrenaline and cortisol are our stress messengers. Cortisol is a stress hormone and adrenaline a neurotransmitter. We need a certain amount of cortisol and adrenaline to be healthy, the key here is to get them both to optimal levels. When cortisol and adrenaline are optimal, we’re going to get the most out your exercise, sleep, diet, etc. and therefore your systems will be running smoothly, autophagy included. 

Knowing your stress type means knowing your cortisol and adrenaline level throughout the day. If you’re not aware of your cortisol and adrenaline levels, you might be trying things that could actually make you feel worse and do more harm than good to your body. If your cortisol and adrenaline are too high for example, we’re going to use completely different herbs and nutrients to get it back to optimal than if your cortisol and adrenaline are too low. This is why it’s so important to know where you’re starting from. 

When your cortisol and adrenaline are optimal, you’re going to improve your health you will get more out of everything you do.

To be able to improve autophagy first you must first make sure you’ve optimized your cortisol and adrenaline levels, so you know which methods to use to optimize it.

First, find out which stress type you are in my Stress Quiz. 


Dr. Doni Stress Quiz

There is also a test to measure your cortisol adrenaline levels throughout the day. You can order it here and learn how to optimize your cortisol and adrenaline levels. 

Once you know your stress type you will be able to know what to do to master it and recover from it and then improve autophagy.

How You Can Start Mastering Your Stress

We have to start by having compassion for ourselves. To realize we live in a human body that we need to listen to and take time to become more aware of its signals. We have to realize it’s not about perfection and it doesn’t help to put too much pressure on ourselves. We have to learn how to get into stress recovery and healing mode. We are human not machines. We have to try and learn and practice. This is the human experience. This is mastery of being human. 

We have to learn how our body works and then try new things each day in different routines. This is why I in my book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health I really emphasize the need to fine tune your SelfC.A.R.E. routine. C for clean eating, A for adequate sleep, R for recovery activities and E for exercise. And this self-care is all based on your stress type which is your body’s responsiveness to stress. By understanding how your body responds and what it needs to recover you will have the information you need to support your body better. 

Stress is going to happen. We can’t escape it, so we’re going to be in a better position if we learn how to master it and have it work in our favor and to have it stimulate autophagy. 

We also have to make sure we are getting the right nutrients and antioxidants for our cells to function correctly and to support autophagy. It’s a matter of pacing yourself and start to walk down this path, or healing journey, and human mastery, and all of a sudden it starts to make sense and you start feeling better and better.

Another important aspect of mastering your stress and improving autophagy is to help your body get rid of toxins. When your body is not detoxifying correctly or has toxins that have accumulated over the years it makes it more difficult for your cells to run an optimal autophagy. Our cells need antioxidants; they need B vitamins; they need minerals; they need amino acids; and they need to be free of toxins to be able to process these nutrients and help your liver and your whole body to process the toxins.

This is why I have created a detoxification program called the 14-Day Detox Program. This program includes a Detox Kit which has in it the macro nutrients you need for optimal detoxification and autophagy. It also includes a designed meal plan with clean meals and all the guidance needed to follow this process to support your autophagy.

A detoxification process is also something that needs guidance in order for it to be safe and effective and make you feel better and not worse. There’s a lot of different detox programs out there but what I find is that they don’t offer the support needed to get the most benefit. With this program you don’t have to turn off your regular life. It is intended for you to be able to do while still following your daily routine.  

I can’t wait for you to experience the changes in your health. People who have participated in the detox program are reporting improved blood sugar levels, weight loss, improvement in energy, mood, focus, sleep, skin, hair, nails, digestion, and more.

This program is perfect if you have extreme stress and trauma exposure, mold toxicity, post COVID symptoms or other kinds of neurological conditions like anxiety, depression, autoimmunity, fertility issues or even chronic viruses like HPV. 

This type of autophagy optimization through detox has the ability to reprogram all those processes in your body so autoimmunity can turn off, your immune system can fend off viruses that it wasn’t fending off before, your body can fend off cancer cells, and your nerves can heal and your neurotransmitters can rebalance. These things that maybe you never thought were possible, are actually possible when we give our bodies the right signals and tools. Your body knows how to correct itself. It’s just a matter of supporting it in the right way.

If you want to learn more about my approach on how you can start taking better care of yourself and apply my SelfC.A.R.E. protocol so that you can get back to feeling your best, you may want to start by reading my book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health

In my book, I also share the quiz I developed (same one as above) to help you identify how stress has affected you specifically by knowing your Stress Type. You can also take this Stress Type Quiz online.

For the most comprehensive support to recover from stress and trauma, even with the most difficult health issues (physical or mental), it is best to meet with me one-on-one, which is available to you no matter where you are in the world (via phone or zoom). You can set up a one-on-one appointment with me here.

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Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health by Dr. Doni Wilson



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