10 Natural Sleep Aids: What Works and Why

By now, the average person grasps just how important sleep is for our overall health. It seems like every month there’s a new popular science book extolling the virtues of sleep. Parents remember the zombified newborn days and can see (and hear), firsthand, what happens when a toddler doesn’t get enough sleep. And on a visceral level, we feel the need for slumber. Even if we’re unaware of or refuse to accept the health dangers of long-term sleep restriction, there’s no getting around the abject misery of a bad night’s sleep.

We all want better sleep. We all need better sleep. But how?

Sleeping pills are not the answer for most people.

(But please note: Don’t discontinue or alter a prescribed treatment or medication regimen without consulting your doctor…and, likewise, don’t begin a new regimen—like those below—without running it by your physician.)

In one recent “positive” study on the effects of sleeping pills, almost every single subject suffered one or more side effects, ranging from headaches to nausea to irritability to dizziness to dysgeusia (a condition where your sense of taste is altered).

In another, taking Ambien the night before decreased cognitive performance and increased subjective sleepiness the next morning.

Studies aside, there are thousands of horror stories about people ruining their lives (or behaving in a way that had the potential to do so) after taking sleeping pills. Twitter rants that get you fired, sleep driving, tooth grinding, furniture rearranging, sleep eating. And those are just the ones that people live to tell.

That’s not to say sleeping pills are useless. They’re legitimate drugs to be used for specific medical conditions, in specific patient circumstances. They aren’t to be trifled with. But if you’re just trying to “get better sleep,” you’ve got options. And I’m not even mentioning the lifestyle and behavioral modifications you can make to improve your sleep.

Here are my favorite natural sleep aids….

1. GABA

GABA is the inhibitory neurotransmitter. It calms the brain. It soothes the brain. It de-stresses the brain. And it’s a major factor in the creation of melatonin, the hormone our brain uses to trigger sleep onset. Insomniacs have reduced brain GABA levels compared to non-insomniacs; the same goes for people with sleep apnea. Restoring physiological levels of GABA, then, is a first line of defense against poor sleep.

Oral GABA has a blood-brain barrier problem—it doesn’t cross it particularly well. Children have more permissive BBBs, but most of my readers aren’t children. Nitric oxide tends to increase GABA diffusion across the blood brain barrier, and there are a couple of ways to increase nitric oxide in conjunction with taking GABA to make the latter more effective for sleep.

You could sunbathe. That increases nitric oxide release. The only problem is that most sunbathing occurs during the midday hours, not at night. It’s unclear how long the boost from sunlight lasts, though it certainly can’t hurt.

You could take apocynum venetum, an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine that increases nitric oxide release. In fact, one study showed that taking GABA with apcynum ventum improves sleep quality.

Before you start sedating yourself, see if GABA has an effect.

2. Melatonin

When it’s bedtime for your brain, your pineal gland starts pumping out a hormone called melatonin. This initiates the onset of sleep and triggers subjective feelings of sleepiness; it also sets your circadian rhythm.

Supplemental melatonin crosses the blood brain barrier and acts very similarly to endogenous melatonin.

Don’t use melatonin every night. Not because you’ll get “addicted” (you won’t) or “your natural production will stop” (it won’t), but because you should focus on producing your own. If I get a big dose of late night blue light, I might nibble on a little melatonin. If I have more than a single glass of wine at night, I’ll have some melatonin before bed as alcohol depresses its production. And when I travel, I always take a few milligrams an hour before my desired bedtime in the new time zone.

The main reason you shouldn’t rely on melatonin for everyday use is that supplemental melatonin pharmacology doesn’t quite emulate endogenous melatonin pharmacology. The way most people take it is in a single dose before bed. The way the brain produces it is consistently through the night. If you want to emulate physiological levels of melatonin, you’re better off taking a single dose of instant release melatonin followed by a dose of slow release melatonin, or a supplement that includes both forms. Even then, it’s not the same.

3. Collagen

I still remember the first time I drank a big mug of bone broth at night. It was one of the not-as-rare-as-you’d-think cold “winter” nights in Malibu. I was sitting on the couch, reading a book, and got about 3/4 of the way through a mug of chicken foot broth before, apparently, falling asleep right then and there. A bit of research the next day revealed that glycine, the primary amino acid in collagen/gelatin/broth, can have a powerful effect on sleep quality. Not only that, glycine also lowers body temperature (an important part of the sleep process) and improves wakefulness the next day. And if you’ve got REM sleep behavior disorder, glycine may be the solution.

In fact, the glycine-sleep effect was another consideration in creating Collagen Fuel and Peptides. Everyone talks about the benefits to joint health, performance, skin, nails, hair, and general inflammation, but I want folks to also discover the benefit of glycine-enhanced sleep, too.

If you take collagen, aim for at least 10 grams at night. If you’re taking straight glycine, 3 grams is the minimum dose. Those are threshold doses; more may help even more.

4. Magnesium

We talk a lot about “age-related” declines in health, vitality, performance, and basic physiological functions. We also talk about how much of what we call “age-related” isn’t inevitable. It’s not so much that the passage of time degrades our bodies and how they work, but that we become more susceptible to poor lifestyle, dietary, and exercise choices because of compounding negative interest. We’re born with robust health and if we fail to maintain it, our health worsens as time progresses. If we never stop moving, lifting weights, and eating right, aging doesn’t happen to the same degree.

One thing that changes with age is how we sleep. In older people, sleep architecture is different: More time is spent awake and there’s less slow wave sleep. Sleep spindles, those oscillating bursts of brain wave activity, begin disappearing. Sounds inevitable, right? Except that research shows that taking magnesium reverses these age-related changes to sleep architecture.

Taking some Natural Calm (a great magnesium supplement) after your CrossFit workout and falling asleep faster is one thing. But to actually restore youthful sleep architecture? Amazing.

5. CBD Oil

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.

And to me, the most interesting aspect of CBD lies in its potential to improve sleep. A 2017 review provides a nice summary of the effects of CBD on sleep:

In insomnia patients, 160 mg/day of CBD increased sleep time and reduced the number of arousals (not that kind) during the night.

Lower doses are linked to increased arousals and greater wakefulness. Higher dose CBD improved sleep.

In preliminary research with Parkinson’s patients, CBD reduced REM-related behavioral disorder—which is when you basically act out your dreams as they’re happening.

More recently, a large case series (big bunch of case studies done at once) was performed giving CBD to anxiety patients who had trouble sleeping. Almost 80% had improvements in anxiety and 66% had improvements in sleep (although the sleep improvements fluctuated over time).

Here’s how to find a good CBD oil.

6. Theanine

Theanine is a chemical found in tea, especially tea grown in shady conditions. Because it is structurally similar to glutamate and easily passes the blood brain barrier, theanine binds to various glutamate receptors in the brain, inhibiting the action of some and promoting the action of others. It also increases serotonin, GABA, and glycine in the brain—all chemicals that can pave the way for better sleep.

Theanine is another of those sleep aids that isn’t expressly about sleep. It’s about relaxation, about letting you get out of your own way. If in the course of relaxation and stress reduction you end up taking care of the thing that’s messing up your sleep, theanine can be said to be a big sleep aid.

This is a good theanine. I also make a supplement (Adaptogenic Calm) that contains theanine and other stress-reducing compounds.

7. Lutein and Zeaxanthin

One of the most powerful sleep aids is wearing a pair of orange safety goggles that blocks blue light after dark. Viewed after dark, blue (and green) light suppresses melatonin secretion, pushes back sleep onset, and throws off your entire circadian rhythm. Blocking the light with goggles allows normal melatonin production to proceed and promotes earlier bedtimes and better, deeper sleeps.

What if you could take a supplement that simulated the blue-blocking effect of a pair of orange safety goggles? Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, plant-based pigments found in colorful produce and pasture-raised eggs that are actually incorporated into the eye where they offer protection from sunlight and inhibit the melatonin-reducing effect of nighttime light exposure. Human studies show that taking lutein and zeaxanthin on a regular basis improves sleep quality, reduces sleep disturbances, and lowers dependence on supplemental or pharmaceutical sleep aids.

Here’s a good one. Trader Joe’s also has a good supplement called Super Vision.

The best natural sleep aids restore the ancestral sleep baseline. At baseline, humans should be walking around with good GABA levels. They should be getting enough magnesium, collagen/glycine, and carotenoids from their diet. It’s normal to produce melatonin after dark. And even though humans haven’t been dosing themselves with CBD or theanine for very long, it also isn’t normal to be inundated with chronic, low level stress and persistent anxiety—the type of stress that ruins our sleep, the type of anxiety that CBD and theanine can regulate.

What else?

8. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is an herb in the mint family. The fragrance is intoxicating (I’ve even used lemon balm in a roasted chicken), but not the effects. It doesn’t directly induce sleep—it’s not a sedative or a hypnotic—but if stress and anxiety are getting in the way of your sleep, lemon balm will help clear them out.

9. Valerian

Valerian root has a long history as an anti-insomnia herb. The ancient Greeks used it and traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions continue to use to it to treat bad sleep. Valerian contains a compound that slows down the brain’s metabolism of GABA, thereby increasing GABA levels and letting what the brain already produces hang around even longer.

I’ll admit I’m more ambivalent about these last two options. While they’re certainly gentler than pharmaceutical sleep pills, and lemon balm in particular is a legit way to deal with stress and anxiety, their efficacy for sleep is questionable. The evidence just isn’t there, though I grant that many people report good results.

10. Combinations

Many of these individual compounds become more powerful and more effective combined with each other. Since these aren’t pharmaceutical drugs with very narrow safety profiles rife with contraindications, taking them together usually isn’t an issue, but check in with your doctor anyway (especially if you’re taking other medications or have known health conditions).

And today’s list isn’t exhaustive. There are other compounds, herbs, and supplements that can probably help people improve their sleep.

Most of the adaptogens, like ashwagandha or rhodiola rosea, have been shown in one study or another to improve sleep in humans. Anything that helps get you back to baseline, back to homeostasis, back to normal—will restore your sleep if it’s suffering. And if you’re suffering, your sleep is likely suffering because sleep is such a fundamental aspect of the human experience. Anything that improves your health will also probably improve your sleep.

This goes without saying, but don’t limit yourself to natural sleep supplements. Don’t forget about the importance of lifestyle, of exercise, of diet, of morning light exposure and nighttime light avoidance. Supplements can help, but they can’t be the foundation for good sleep hygiene. You’re just asking for trouble—or subpar results.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Now, let’s hear from you. What natural sleep aids have you found most useful? Is there anything I overlooked or forgot? Let me know down below.

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References:

Pinto LR, Bittencourt LR, Treptow EC, Braga LR, Tufik S. Eszopiclone versus zopiclone in the treatment of insomnia. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2016;71(1):5-9.

Dinges DF, Basner M, Ecker AJ, Baskin P, Johnston S. Effects of Zolpidem and Zaleplon on Cognitive Performance After Emergent Tmax and Morning Awakenings: a Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Sleep. 2018;

Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Maru I, Yang J, Tatsuzaki J, Kim M. The Improvement of Sleep by Oral Intake of GABA and Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2015;61(2):182-7.

Held K, Antonijevic IA, Künzel H, et al. Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002;35(4):135-43.

Kim S, Jo K, Hong KB, Han SH, Suh HJ. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharm Biol. 2019;57(1):65-73.

Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Monteferrario F, Antoniello N, Manni R, Klersy C. The effect of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc on primary insomnia in long-term care facility residents in Italy: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011;59(1):82-90.

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Top 10 Fasting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Folks, you know I’m a long-time believer in intermittent fasting for longevity, autophagy, mental clarity, fitness performance, metabolic health, and more. I’m excited that Dr. Jason Fung has stopped by the blog today to share a bit about common fasting mistakes. Enjoy!

So, you’ve decided to add some fasting to your lifestyle. Excellent. No matter how much you have (or haven’t) read on the topic, you’re likely to find aspects of fasting to be challenging or even frustrating. It can be hard to stay on track when you’re feeling hungry, irritable and not really noticing any changes.

It’ll become tremendously easier once you begin to experience the health benefits of fasting, but we all know it takes a little while for that to happen. Benefits like mental clarity and improved energy will show up sooner than significant weight loss. Plus, the benefits you experience will depend on what kind of fast you’re doing and how well you stick to it.

But if you’re making fasting mistakes, you might never accomplish the benefits you were hoping for. . Before you throw in the towel, I want to help you identify some possible fasting pitfalls you might not be aware of and also help you avoid them. Plus, don’t miss the Number One reason fasts fail, shared at the end of this article.

1. You’re Snacking or “Grazing”

Look, the entire purpose of a fast is to contain your eating within certain windows of time. Snacking or “grazing” all day long is basically the opposite of fasting, so stop thinking that you can get away with it. Fasting is “on” or “off”—there is no gray area. Even having “just a bite,” no matter how healthy or how little, will almost invariably kick your body out of fasting mode and will interfere with the healing process responsible for fasting’s many benefits. It also creates a situation where your body is producing insulin all day long. Bad idea.

Avoid grazing by putting snacks and food out of sight. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” really applies here. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to bypass snacking when the food isn’t sitting right in front of you. If you snack out of habit, get creative and find new, non-food based habits. If your snacking comes from genuine hunger, you may need to re-evaluate the meals you eat during your eating window. Make sure you’re getting enough healthy, unsaturated fats with each meal as these will keep you satiated for longer.

2. You Aren’t Drinking Enough Water

This is not only a common fasting mistake, but a mistake most people make no matter what their diet is. Drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water daily is essential to staying hydrated and healthy. Some signs that you aren’t drinking enough water include dizziness and lightheadedness, feeling tired, or constipation.

Even worse, when you don’t drink enough water, your brain may try to trick you into thinking that you’re hungry, so you get the vitamins and minerals you’re lacking. Minerals like potassium and magnesium are essential to your brain health. So don’t be surprised next time you feel hungry but find that drinking a glass of water makes the appetite disappear. Various kinds of tea are also a satisfying way to hydrate, or try some bone broth if you’re truly struggling.

3. You Aren’t Consuming Enough Salts

Speaking of vitamins and minerals, appropriate salt intake is vital to your health. Now, when I say “salt,” I’m not talking about the kind you put in a shaker. I’m talking about electrolytes, which are essential to your diet. Sodium (Na), which is also commonly known as table salt, is one of these electrolytes, along with potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), and chloride (Cl).

How can you tell if you’re low on electrolytes? Some symptoms of electrolyte deficiency are anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping, muscle spasms, fatigue, digestive issues, and dizziness. If these are the kinds of symptoms you experience during your fast, lack of electrolytes could be the answer. Try taking some pink Himalayan rock salt and placing it under your tongue to dissolve. You can also try drinking some pickle juice — just make sure it’s from high-quality natural pickles and not the kind made with sugar.

4. You’re Eating Right Before You Go To Sleep

Your body needs time to digest all the food from your last meal before you go to sleep. If you’ve scheduled your eating window to happen right before bedtime, your body will be taking all the time you’ve allotted to rest to digest instead. That takes energy, and instead of waking up feeling restored and ready to take on the day, you’ll just feel tired.

When you’re following a fasting plan, a seven-hour window is an ideal amount of time to leave between your last meal and when you go to sleep. Even three or four hours is enough to make a difference. Unfortunately, with crazy work schedules and early mornings, a lot of people aren’t able to stick to that three- or four-hour window. It’s more like get home, eat dinner, and go straight to bed. If this is you, the next best thing is to eat a light meal, like salad, and avoid a meal filled with carbohydrates and protein.

5. You’re Eating Too Much of Some Food Groups

When we cut certain foods from our diet, especially carbs, it’s easy to rely on other food groups, like nuts and dairy. They’re readily available and a staple of most diets.

Nuts are a low-carb, healthy fat option, but only in small amounts. They’re great to add to fruit or veggie salads, and they’re easy to grab a handful of when you need a quick snack. But those quick snacks can add up, especially on top of eating full meals. Nuts are high in good fat, low in carbs, and are a good source of protein, but too much protein can be detrimental to your fast. Excess protein that your body doesn’t need is converted to glucose and stored as fat. If you’re fasting to lose weight, this is the exact opposite of what you want.

Dairy, the other easy food group that too many people defect to, can cause inflammation, upset stomach, bloating, gas, and other kinds of discomfort. If this is a pattern you’ve noticed with your own health and eating habits, try cutting out dairy for a few weeks and see if these symptoms improve. If you haven’t noticed these symptoms, be more mindful of your eating habits and track how you feel after eating dairy.

6. You Aren’t Eating Enough of Certain Food Groups

As easy as it is to eat too much of one food group, it’s equally easy to not get enough of another. Just because you can eat “whatever” you want during your eating window doesn’t mean you should. Empty calories and junk food are momentarily satisfying, but they don’t fuel your body. Eating the right foods provides your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive throughout the day; these foods will also keep you feeling fuller, longer.

Vegetables are one of the best food groups to keep you nourished and thriving. They’re low calorie and they provide different vitamins and minerals like potassium, fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Fruits are also healthy, but don’t overdo it, as most are high in sugar. Fruit juices typically have added sugar as well. Naturally flavored drinks and teas are the healthiest option. Nuts are high in fat and a good source of protein, as are eggs. Refined carbohydrates and sugars are highly unnecessary for your body and if you’re going to include them in your meals, there should be very little.

7. You’re Pushing Your Body Too Hard

Did you dive off the deep end and go from zero fasting to attempting 24-hr fasts every other day? Back up and take a more moderate approach first. Don’t expect fasting to be easy right away. Not only will your body need time to adjust, but your mind will, too. If you’ve been accustomed to three square meals a day, plus snacks and calorie-filled drinks, your body has gotten used to this routine.

Your body needs time to adapt. First it burns through stored sugar and then it will start burning body fat for energy. Start slow and get a feeling for this new practice. You can start with a twelve-hour fasting period and twelve-hour eating window. When eight hours of that fast are during your sleeping hours, this window is relatively easy. Once you’ve become accustomed to this schedule, you can reduce your eating window to ten hours. Continue decreasing your eating window by two hours every one to two weeks, until you’ve hit the fasting period you want.

8. You Have the Wrong Mindset

Fasting provides your body with everything it needs to thrive, but without the right mindset, you’re bound to fail. Focusing on the negative, like not being allowed to eat certain foods or at certain times, will easily spiral into other negative self-talk. The harder you are on yourself, the more difficult it is to achieve success.

Rather than thinking about how hard the fast is, focus on the positive that will come out of it. Fasting allows your body to heal. Fasting can help you lose weight. You’ll feel more energized and have a clearer mind. Whatever the reason you’ve chosen to fast, focus on that. Fasting with a friend, family member, partner, or online community is another way to hold yourself accountable and can be very helpful.

9. You’re Too Stressed

When you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is problematic when fasting because it can prompt your body to break down muscle tissue instead of fat. When fasting, your body should tap into stored body fat and preserve your healthy muscle tissue.

If you’re stressed on occasion, this shouldn’t cause much of a problem. But if you’re chronically stressed, that constant release of cortisol can lead to a breakdown of muscle tissue.

Not sure if you’re stressed? Here are some symptoms:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Apathy
  • Anger
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating

Alleviate stress with deep breathing, positive visualization, an epsom salt bath, and stress-relieving teas. If you can, take some time off from work. If you’re an outdoorsy person, relax in nature.

10. You’re Inactive

Being inactive is one of the biggest mistakes people make during their fast. If you aren’t eating, you should rest and save your energy, right? Wrong. Exercise is a great way to improve your fasting. Activity increases fat burning and boosts circulation. Going outside and getting some sunlight and fresh air can improve your mood, making you more likely to stick to your fast. Movement generally makes people feel better than sitting on the couch inside all day; being inactive makes you cold, tired, and unfocused.

Since a lot of people work sedentary jobs that tie them to a desk all day, exercise isn’t a convenient way to stay active. But taking a short walk or stretching are two easy ways to get your blood flowing throughout the day.

Fasting shouldn’t be synonymous with suffering. If you’re feeling deprived during your fast, be sure that you aren’t making any of the above fasting mistakes. Ease yourself into your fast, stick with it, and enjoy the results when they come with time.

But there’s one more—in fact, the number one reason fasts fail….

Can you guess what it is?

***Giving Into Cravings

Which is why I want to tell you about my new favorite secret weapon for staying fasted longer and with less difficulty: Pique Fasting Teas. Why tea? The combination of catechins and caffeine gives you a higher chance of experiencing tangible benefits from fasting. It suppresses hunger cravings, boosts calorie burn and supports malabsorption of unhealthy fats and sugars.

These Fasting Teas include ingredients targeted at maximizing the fasting experience:

1) Organic highest ceremonial grade matcha, which increases levels of l-theanine to calm and tide you through your fasts with ease. 2) Organic peppermint, which is a natural appetite suppressant with calming properties. 3) Proprietary blend of high catechin green Tea Crystals, which regulate the hunger hormone ghrelin and increase thermogenesis (burning fat for fuel). This helps you to stay fasted and see quicker results. 4) Additional plant ingredients including ginger and citrus peel to support digestion and enhance autophagy.

As with all of Pique’s teas, you can rest assured these are pure and Triple Toxin Screened for pesticides, heavy metals and toxic mold. For a limited time only, if you order through the Mark’s Daily Apple link, you can get up to 8% off and free shipping (U.S. only).

Thanks again to Dr. Jason Fung for today’s post. Have questions on fasting protocols or missteps? Share them below, everybody, and have a great day.

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Success Story Follow-Up: Finding My Passion Through Healing

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

This is a follow-up post from a former MDA success story, Andy Hnilo. In response to his original story, a number of readers had questions about Andy’s routine he used for healing and the ingredients his research showed were effective for various skin repair and restoration purposes. He’s answered those questions in this follow-up post. Enjoy, everyone!

After a car accident left me with seven broken ribs, a collapsed lung and “the worst compound fracture’ the maxillofacial specialist at the hospital had ever seen, my body was wrecked and my confidence not far behind. For any person, this would be a traumatic experience, but as a 30-year-old working actor and model, my future was suddenly completely unsure. As easy as it would have been to give up, my near-fatal accident turned out to be the ultimate blessing in disguise — that experience sparked the fire in my soul’s purpose. A walking ball of inflammation, I began researching ingredients for how I was going to accelerate my healing both internally and externally. Along the way, I shared everything I had learned about nutrition, natural healing, skincare and how to feel better about the reflection in the mirror with the rest of the world.

There came a point in my accident recovery where new passion, fun and hobby displaced my previous worry and intermittent pain. Researching and experimenting with various therapeutic ingredients became a creative outlet for me. While many of my friends found my new ‘hobby’ a bit crazy at times; I never let that stop me. In addition to the obvious results, I found a sense of encouragement for my recovery in researching and learning about certain studies and ingredients that helped others heal their scarring. It gave me hope and further validated the physiological capabilities of my ‘crazy’ concoctions.

For those of you like me, who share in the joy of science, biology and nature’s magic, I would love to share with you some of the most impressive research on the ingredients that accelerated the healing of my skin after my accident.

Skin Restorative Ingredients: What My Research Revealed

Medicinal Clays

It turns out, clays have been used therapeutically throughout various cultures. While one might be quick to discredit someone with mud on their face, the fact of the matter is there are many scientific discoveries associated with use of hydrated clays. There are 2500 scientific articles published in PubMed to sort the scientific works have been done on the effects of this clay on body function.

For example, Illite and Kaolin have ionic properties that affect antibacterial activity. In fact, studies have found that the natural and ion-exchanged illite clays significantly decrease bacterial load, skin inflammation and gross wound morphology. There’s even research that dives deeper into the chemistry of clay’s antibacterial effects, providing evidence that suggest some antibacterial clays can promote similar bactericidal (bacterial death inducing) reactions as effect as synthetic antibiotics. 1,2

Pearl Powder

Pearl Powder is perhaps the most sophisticated exfoliates created by Mother Nature. If you’re unfamiliar, Pearl is one of the well-known traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) tonics used for treating various skin disorders and beautifying the skin, mostly due to its abundant antioxidant, protein and mineral contents.

In one study, pearl powder supplemented people showed a substantial increase in total antioxidant capacity. Tests done found a significant increase in master antioxidants glutathione and SOD (superoxide dismutase) content and activity. It was also found that pearl considerably suppressed lipid peroxidation, which is the oxidative degradation of fats in the body. These outcomes sum up to one clear fact about pearl, it is a supremely potent antioxidant and thereby makes a novel, natural remedy for treating various age-related degenerative disorders. For me, this is the kind of data that helps me make sense of why pearl powder makes my skin soft and smooth. 3

Colostrum

Colostrum is yet another power-house ingredient backed by science. In short, it is a natural source of many important vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. However, perhaps the most impressive part of colostrum is its unique content of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).

In regards to skin health and regeneration, colostrum and its IGF-1 content sparked great interest for me. IGF factor 1 (IGF-I) is widely distributed in various tissues, including the skin. It turns out, IGF-I is strongly expressed in injured areas, where it plays an important role in epidermal and dermal wound healing. Repeated studies have shown the beneficial effects of topically applied IGF-I on wound healing, due to its stimulating effects on collagen synthesis in skin fibroblasts, the proliferation of fibroblasts and keratinocytes, and angiogenesis. 4,5 As collagen production starts to decline with age, it is essential to make healthy skin care a priority by choosing products with ingredients that will keep your skin functioning at its peak, no matter what age you are. 6,7

In simpler terms, colostrum promotes the regeneration of fresh skin. I greatly attribute my regular use of colostrum and its effects to a surprisingly minimal appearance of scarring after my accident.

Pracaxi/Acai Oil

After my accident, I had the worst compound jaw fracture the resident maxillofacial surgeon of Cedars Sinai had ever seen. We actually had to hire a private surgeon and he assisted him. So you can only imagine the wounds that inflicted my face, negatively affecting the integrity of my skin. Normally, intense wounds means equally intense skin scarring. Luckily, scar formation itself varies based on many factors and can be mitigated by therapeutic agents, such as the beneficial fatty acids found in pracaxi oil.

According to clinical research, the topical application pracaxi oil to injured skin led to considerable improvements in wound healing and scar attributes. Additionally, it has been found that acai oil, applied topically to diabetic ulcerations can dramatically improve healing, up to 100%. With my initial fear of scarring after my accident, discovering natural ingredients with regenerative abilities were a true saving grace. 8 9

Plant-derived Stem Cells

When I said I was willing to try anything to improve my recovery, I meant it. Somewhere along my journey, I came across compelling research on the use of plant stem cells for skin regeneration. The science and use of plant-stem cells is an interest focus for leading edge cosmetic treatment. When you consider the unique self-pairing, tissue regenerative processes of plants; it’s amazing to think that we could utilize their cells to also assist our skin cells in regeneration. That’s what plant stem-cell science is all about and it’s quite intriguing.

According to the research and experimentation, plant-stem cells contain phytohormones that have an antioxidant effect on the skin. In fact, one study found that a product derived of plant-stem cells greatly reduced wrinkles in the crow’s feet area of the face 10. It was found that the depth of face wrinkles became shallower by 8% after 2 weeks and shallower by 15% after 4 weeks. 11

Plant-Derived Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays major regulatory roles in the functioning and health of the skin matrix. Vitamin A is typically found in two forms; carotene or retinol. However, with the help of modern technology, we are capable of extracting a retinol-like plant-based vitamin A, derived of the popular superfood, Alfalfa.

Plant-derived Vitamin A has some amazing science behind it. Sourced organically from France, it contains similar beneficial polysaccharides as retinol, called galactomannans. This gives plant-derived vitamin A retinol-like-activity because it’s working on similar biological markers. Best of all, it achieves these effects without inducing irritancy on the skin like Retinol so often does. It can greatly improve the appearance and health of aged skin by significantly reducing fine lines and Crow’s feet.

In fact, study has found that topical plant-derived Vitamin A improves fine wrinkles associated with natural aging. The induction of glycosaminoglycan; beneficial mucopolysaccharides, increase collagen production and are most likely responsible for the minimization of fine lines. Additionally, plant-derived Vitamin A treated skin improves skin matrix synthesis, making it more resilient to skin injury and ulceration. 12

CoQ10

Also known as ubiquinone coenzyme q10, CoQ10 is an endogenously synthesized lipid-soluble antioxidant, which is essential for cellular energy production. However, like all aging, this precious molecule is diminished with skin aging too. Stress of all sorts all tend to decrease the antioxidant presence and activity of coQ10. Luckily, both dietary and topical Q10 treatment is incredibly beneficial with regard to effective Q10 replenishment.

In study, application of Q10-containing formulas significantly increased the levels of this particular quinone in the skin surface and even in the deeper layers of the epidermis. More importantly was the effect this had on the skin; the results founds that stressed-skin improved by reduction of free radicals and the increase in antioxidant capacity. In other words, the topical use of CoQ10 improves the skin’s resilience to oxidative stress. Considering that oxidative stress results in the well-known signs of skin aging, like the appearance of wrinkles and lines as well as loss of elasticity, CoQ10 application serves as a useful anti-aging novelty. These are just a few of the reasons I feature CoQ10 in both my Night Cream and Gold Serum. 13, 14, 15

How I Applied My Research To My Routine

Purely through self-experimentation and trial and error, what made most sense to me was combining THE best, most effective ingredients that I could source from nature along with the latest and greatest in cutting edge science. The process began by isolating carefully sourced ingredients based on texture alone, then combining them with different carrier oils then moving forward and adding essential oils and extracts that fit my creation and desired emulsion.

I knew I wanted a dense feel that would be there throughout the night, nourishing and healing the scar area through deep hydration. I tried a couple products in the beginning before making my own, and they would absorb quickly leaving me questioning its level of effectiveness if it is gone within minutes. What made the most sense to me is a rich concentrated emulsion that was thicker, therefore moisturizing the target areas for longer periods of time. Devoid of harsh, drying ingredients. In search for the perfect blend of botanicals, it was fascinating to me to learn of certain ingredients like Sea Buckthorn and find out about it’s very rare Omega-7 fatty acid capacity.

In my night cream specifically, in a cast iron pan, I would melt down thicker ingredients like Beeswax, Cacao Butter and Manuka honey then combine with cold-pressed oils to create an highly concentrated, nourishing emulsion for my skin that I would apply after rinsing off The Clay Mask. I still have that first concoction with little dimples of cacao butter strewn throughout, preserved solely by K-Factor 16 Manuka Honey. That concoction turned into what is now, our award-winning Alitura Night Cream.

As you can see, my skin-care craze isn’t as whacky as it seems—there is credible scientific evidence that backs my madness. In a culture that is quick to go under the knife or get an injection it’s imperative to remember that none of those options actually help keeping the appearance of the skin youthful and glowing. Using skincare products that are dense in topical nutrients are vital for healthy looking skin. 16,17 At this point, you’re likely wondering how to put it all to practice. So, without further ado, I’m happy to share with you my personal skincare routine…

Here’s What It Looks Like To Date:

Pearl Cleansing: I start off my skin-care routine with a traditional step; cleansing. However, I use a not-so-conventional cleanser, the Pearl Cleanser. As we discussed, this unique cleanser cleans the skin while protecting it from the stressful effects of free radicals.
*Wet your face with warm, clean water
*Apply the cleanser with your hands, gently working it into the skin
*Wash it off
*Let your face dry

Derma Rolling: Next up is Derma Rolling. Derma rolling is one of the most powerful weapons for getting the what I call the “Alitura Glow.” This is one of the many high-end medi spas best kept secrets. Microneedling, a.k.a. Collagen Induction Therapy, is exactly that: an effective way to stimulate collagen synthesis and simultaneously break down malformed tissue such as acne and surgical scars (keloid scars are the exception as Microneedling can cause more keloid scarring).18 It works by creating “micro-tears” or generating acute, inflammation, that initiates the healing or regeneration of the outer layer of the skin. It also helps open the poors up, allowing any of the medicinal ingredients in your serums or moisturizers to absorb more deeper.

Home-use vs. Medical Microneedling has everything to do with needle size. The Alitura Dermaroller comes in .25 mm, .5 mm, and 1 mm needle sizes making it ideal for safe home use. Within just a few treatments over the course of 6-8 weeks you will notice visible changes in the texture of your skin at the surface level and plumpness and contour since your dermis has more collagen giving the understructure a firmer foundation for a more youthful contour to the jawline and cheekbones.

In addition to these benefits, derma-rolling can improve collagen synthesis, heal scars, prevents premature skin aging, reduces stretch marks and helps balance skin tone. 19

Clay Mask: My third step is to follow up Derma Rolling with The Alitura Clay Mask. As we’ve discussed, the mask on its own is a wonder treatment that thoroughly purifies, exfoliates, detoxifies and revitalizes the skin by stimulating blood flow. Combined with the Derma Roller; however, the benefits are increased exponentially!

Check this article out for full instructions on how to use the Clay Mask.

Alitura Night Cream: I ‘stack’ my Night Cream and Gold Serum before bed. I apply a thin layer of The Gold Serum all over my face, neck and eye area and then follow with thin layer of The Night Cream as a protective, ultra-hydrating barrier that deeply conditions the dermal layer of my skin which is the most important time to do so, while you are in one position for hours. Wake up looking renewed, refreshed and with a plump, radiant complexion. Great way to start the day if you ask me! Enjoy 🙂

To me, there truly is nothing better than feeling good with your what you see in the mirror. One thing I don’t touch on enough is that my journey into skincare really started in college where I became insecure to take my shirt off because of bad back acne that I had. Growing into my body, hormones racing, using poor products and consuming inflammatory dormitory food at UC Berkeley led to it. It was a bit deflating to wake up and see some type of irritation on my face and body and it really bugged me. Made me self conscious. It was then and there that I started to pinpoint the problem. I was a scrawny freshman athlete at Cal, and needed to gain weight quickly as a Division 1 Pac-10 athlete, so I was always scouring the back of food labels for the big three: 1) Protein 2) Calories 3) Fat. That attention to detail on labels led me to look down into ingredients on skin and hair-care as well. Tossing the heavily marketed, big brand name skincare for a better, cleaner ingredient deck yielded results and my knowledge grew year after year.

After my accident that knowledge grew quickly as I voraciously read and researched ingredients and topical remedies to heal myself. It has been said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and I couldn’t agree more. My accident not only led to me finding my passion through healing myself, but I found my purpose along the way. To be able to share what I have created with people all over the world in an effort to make people feel better about what THEY see in the mirror… it gives me goosebumps as I type this. I am grateful.

I want to give a HUGE thank you to the incredible people at Mark’s Daily Apple, Primal Blueprint, Primal Kitchen, and of course Mark Sisson for letting me share a piece of my journey. Thank you for reading.

All the best,
Andy Hnilo
CEO & Founder
Alitura Naturals

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

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References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26508716
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126108/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29389568
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4184407/#b5-ijn-9-4551
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4184407/#b6-ijn-9-4551
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089350/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1606623/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4257951/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4857298/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5674215/#B11
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5674215/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17515510
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737275/#biof1239-bib-0004
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737275/#biof1239-bib-0003
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737275/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428712/
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583891/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4976400/

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The Definitive Guide To What Breaks a Fast

One of the most common questions I get is “Does [x] break a fast?”

What they’re really inquiring about is: “Does this interfere with, negate, or nullify the benefits of fasting?”

These benefits include:

Ketosis: Fasting is the quickest way to get into ketosis, an metabolic state characterized by increasing fat burning, fat adaptation, and—in some people—improved cognitive function.

Fat Loss: When you’re fasting, you’re not eating, and not eating is the best way to force your body to burn the fat it already possesses. Fasting also means no additional calories are coming in, and many people find that fasting is a great way to control their calorie intake.

Autophagy: Autophagy, or “self-eating,” is the process by which our cells prune damaged components, maintain proper function, and keep aging at bay. Fasting triggers autophagy. Breaking the fast will stop autophagy.

Let’s go through the most popular queries one by one and figure out how each one affects an intermittent fast.

Common Drinks

Coffee

Depends on who you ask. Some say the fact that coffee triggers a metabolic response means it breaks the fast. I say that coffee increases fat mobilization and burning, independently triggers autophagy (something we’re looking for when we fast), and makes it easier to stave off hunger. For my full treatment, check out this post on coffee and fasting.

I’m going to say “no.”

Tea

Tea contains no calories, improves metabolic health, and can aid fat burning. All signs point to it being great during a fast. Of course, if you had a tablespoon of sugar and a half cup of milk, you’re breaking the fast. But tea itself is a great addition.

I’m going to say “no.”

Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is essentially non-caloric, like tea or black coffee. It also has beneficial effects on glucose tolerance, which is a big plus.

I’m going to say “no.”

Bone Broth

I covered this in full a few months ago. Go read that post. In short, a bit is probably okay. Just keep in mind that the more gelatinous your broth is, the more collagen protein it will contain and the greater its potential to inhibit autophagy. This isn’t established in humans yet (see the collagen section below), but it’s worth considering. A nice salty broth has gotten many a faster through a tough fast, especially if they’re still learning the ropes and need some electrolytes.

I’m going to say “technically yes” but “realistically no.”

Lemon Water

A tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice has a couple calories and a decent amount of potassium. Combined with salt, lemon water is actually a nice way to hydrate during a fast without breaking it.

I’m going to say “no.”

Diet Soda

Diet soda may mess with your gut. It’s linked to weight issues, though not conclusively and certainly not in a causative manner; it’s just as likely that the relationship can be explained by overweight and unhealthy people using diet sodas in a bid to lose weight. I don’t like them myself, and I’ve witnessed people fail to ever kick the sweet tooth as long as they drank diet sodas. But many people find they do improve dietary adherence and do improve fasting tolerance. If that’s the case, they are very pro-fasting.

I’m going to say “no.”

Juice

A juice fast isn’t really a fast. You’re consuming fewer calories than you might eating normal food, but you’re still consuming a good number of calories—most of them carbohydrate, no less.

I’m going to say “yes” unless you’re specifically engaging in “juice fasting,” in which case it’s still not fasting despite what you call it.

Common Drink Additions/Condiments

Cream (Unsweetened)

Technically, as a source of calories, cream breaks a fast. But it doesn’t provoke an insulin response when consumed in isolation, it doesn’t impact ketosis, and many people find it makes sticking to the fast easier.

I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no—just keep it to a couple teaspoons or less.”

Almond Milk

It depends on the almond milk. A full cup of the standard sugar-free almond milk has just 36 calories, about a gram of carbs, 2 grams of fat, and a gram of protein. That’s almost nothing. You could probably get away with a quarter or third cup and have minimal impact on your fast, but why not just drink some water or coffee?

I’m going to say “technically yes,” but you can get away with a little bit.

Butter

Like cream, butter doesn’t provoke an insulin response in isolation. It’s more calorically dense than cream, though, so watch how much you eat.

I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no as long as you’re not using more than a teaspoon.”

MCT Oil/Coconut Oil

MCT oil is pure fat and thus calorically dense, but it has three benefits going for it. First, it doesn’t provoke an insulin response in isolation. Two, it increases energy expenditure. Three, it converts directly to ketones. People new to fasting can often speed up the fat adaptation process by incorporating a little MCT oil. Coconut oil is the main source of MCT oil, so it’ll have similar effects, though not as pronounced.

I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no—and it may even enhance your fasting experience when consumed in moderation.”

Cinnamon

I don’t advise eating cinnamon alone, dry, and isolated. It’s a terrible and potentially deadly idea. But in some coffee or tea during a fast? Sure. It can even improve insulin sensitivity.

I’m going to say “no.”

Salt

Salt does not break a fast. Actually, adding a pinch or two of salt to your water during a fast can increase your tolerance of the fasting process and improve hydration status.

I’m going to say “no.”

Non-caloric Sweeteners—First Natural, Then Artificial

Stevia

Stevia contains no calories and has no effect on insulin secretion (if anything, it increases insulin sensitivity). However, it’s often used to sweeten foods that do contain calories, so be mindful of how you’re using it.

I’m going to say “no.”

Monk Fruit

For a good overview of monk fruit, read this. Suffice it to say, monk fruit is similar to stevia in that it’s a non-caloric, naturally-occurring sweetener with unique health effects. It will not break your fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Swerve

Swerve is a sweetener that blends erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and oligosaccharides (a prebiotic fiber that tastes kinda sweet) with natural flavors. Erythritol has no effect on insulin or blood glucose (you just pee it out mostly). I couldn’t find any studies on oligosaccharides during a fast, but as humans cannot by definition digest them, they shouldn’t affect the course of a fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Xylitol

See the gum section above. Stick to reasonable amounts.

I’m going to say “no.”

Sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda)

Sucralose does not provoke an insulin response or increase blood glucose—great news for fasters who want to use it—but it does seem to impair whole body insulin sensitivity. That’s bad for everyone.

I’m going to say “no,” but there are other downsides.

Aspartame

Those same studies on monk fruit and stevia also tested aspartame, finding similar results. Aspartame does not provoke an insulin or glucose response. I’m no fan of the stuff, but I don’t see any evidence that it will break a fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Supplementary Powders, Oils, Etc.

CBD Oil

Assuming you’re doing the kind of hemp oil that comes in droppers and not the kind that you pour from a culinary oil bottle, the caloric content can’t possibly impact your fast. There are no studies examining the metabolic effects of CBD in the fasted state, but I don’t see any reason why it would impact ketosis, autophagy, or fat-burning—and without psychoactive THC involved, you won’t be getting the munchies.

I’m going to say “no.”

Protein Powder

Protein powder provokes an insulin response, which opposes autophagy, which means you’re breaking your fast. Plus, protein powder contains calories.

I’m going to say “yes.”

Collagen

If you’re strict and technical, then yes, collagen breaks a fast. There’s evidence that glycine—the most prominent amino acid in collagen—can inhibit autophagy, but it was a convoluted animal study where inhibiting autophagy with large doses of glycine after brain injury actually improved outcomes. It probably doesn’t apply to someone adding a scoop of collagen to their coffee. Besides, even if it slightly reduces autophagy, a little collagen won’t negatively impact ketosis, fat-burning, or energy intake.

I’m going to say “technically yes,” but “realistically no.” Avoid if your main focus is autophagy, though.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs trigger an insulin response and thus stop autophagy and the fast. That said, many proponents of fasted training recommend using BCAAs before a workout to help preserve muscle and improve the post-workout anabolic response.

I’m going to say “yes.”

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made by double fermenting the sugars present in apple juice. First, yeast convert the sugars to alcohol. Next, the alcohol converts to acetic acid. The result is a liquid that’s virtually calorie-free. Studies showing that consuming vinegar lowers the blood glucose response to a subsequent meal aren’t really relevant if you’re fasting, but they don’t hurt.

I’m going to say “no.”

Electrolyte Powder/Tabs

Electrolyte powders/tabs used to come festooned with sucrose, making them decidedly anti-fasting. These days, most of them are sweetened with stevia or some other natural non-caloric sweetener. Even the ones that have a little bit of sugar (1-2 g) are probably okay to consume without much negative effect. Best of all, electrolytes can really help you tolerate a fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Breath-Freshening Items

Gum

If we’re talking sugar-rich gum, the answer is yes. Those definitely break a fast. If we’re talking xylitol gum, the answer is more mixed. In healthy individuals, 30 grams of pure xylitol triggers a small but significant rise in glucose and insulin. That might sound scary to a prospective IFer, but most people aren’t chewing gum made with 30 grams of xylitol. The average piece of xylitol gum barely weighs a gram.

I’m going to say “no,” unless you’re chewing gum made with real sugar or you’re throwing back 30 pieces of xylitol gum in a sitting.

Toothpaste

I always consume my toothpaste (around a tablespoon of the good stuff per brushing) and I’ve never had it knock me out of ketosis, autophagy, or in any way shape or form break my fast. I’m kidding. I don’t consume my toothpaste, but brushing your teeth doesn’t break a fast.

I’m going to say “no.” Don’t eat it though.

Mouthwash

Pretty much the same as toothpaste. Look for a brand that doesn’t contain sugar or one of the artificial sweeteners above that trips insulin. As the instructions (and common sense) suggest, don’t drink it.

That’s it, folks. If you have additional questions about what does or doesn’t break a fast, leave them down below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you found the post helpful. Forward it on if you did.

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References:

Hansson P, Holven KB, Øyri LKL, et al. Meals with Similar Fat Content from Different Dairy Products Induce Different Postprandial Triglyceride Responses in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Cross-Over Trial. J Nutr. 2019;149(3):422-431.

Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010;55(1):37-43.

Ili? V, Vukmirovi? S, Stilinovi? N, ?apo I, Arsenovi? M, Milijaševi? B. Insight into anti-diabetic effect of low dose of stevioside. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017;90:216-221.

Noda K, Nakayama K, Oku T. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994;48(4):286-92.

Müller-hess R, Geser CA, Bonjour JP, Jéquier E, Felber JP. Effects of oral xylitol administration on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in normal subjects. Infusionsther Klin Ernahr. 1975;2(4):247-52.

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The Definitive Guide To Autophagy (and 7 Ways To Induce It)

Biological systems are self-maintaining. They have to be. We don’t have maintenance workers, mechanics, troubleshooters that can “take a look inside” and make sure everything’s running smoothly. Doctors perform a kind of biological maintenance, but even they are working blind from the outside.

No, for life to sustain itself, it has to perform automatic maintenance work on its cells, tissues, organs, and biological processes. One of the most important types of biological maintenance is a process called autophagy.

Autophagy: the word comes from the Greek for “self-eating,” and that’s a very accurate description: Autophagy is when a cell consumes the parts of itself that are damaged or malfunctioning. Lysosomes—members of the innate immune system that also degrade pathogens—degrade the damaged cellular material, making it available for energy and other metabolites.  It’s cellular pruning, and it’s an important part of staving off the worst parts of the aging process.

In study after study, we find that impairment to or reductions of normal levels of autophagy are linked to almost every age-related degenerative disease and malady you can imagine.

  • Cancer: Autophagy can inhibit the establishment of cancer by removing malfunctioning cellular material before it becomes problematic. Once cancer is established, however, autophagy can enhance tumor growth.
  • Diabetes: Impaired autophagy enables the progression from obesity to diabetes via pancreatic beta cell degradation and insulin resistance. Impaired autophagy also accompanies the serious complications related to diabetes, like kidney disease and heart failure.
  • Heart disease: Autophagy plays an important role in all aspects of heart health.
  • Osteoporosis: Both human and animal studies indicate that autophagy dysfunction precedes osteoporosis.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Early stage Alzheimer’s disease is linked to deficits in autophagy.
  • Muscle loss: Autophagy preserves muscle tissue; loss of autophagy begins the process of age-related muscle atrophy.

Okay, so autophagy is rather important. It’s fundamental to health.

But how does autophagy happen?

The way it’s supposed to happen is this:

Humans traditionally and historically lived in a very different food environment. Traditionally and historically, humans were feasters and fasters. While I don’t think our paleolithic ancestors were miserable, wretched, perpetually starving creatures scuttling from one rare meal to the next—the fossil records show incredibly robust remains, with powerful bones and healthy teeth and little sign of nutritional deficits—they also couldn’t stroll down to the local Whole Foods for a cart full of ingredients. Going without food from time to time was a fundamental aspect of human ancestral life.

They worked for their food. I don’t mean “sat in a cubicle to get a paycheck to spend on groceries.” I mean they expended calories to obtain food. They hunted—and sometimes came back empty handed. They dug and climbed and rooted around and gathered. They walked, ran, stalked, jumped, lifted. Movement was a necessity.

In short, they experienced energy deficits on a regular basis. And energy deficits, particularly sustained energy deficits, are the primary triggers for autophagy. Without energy deficits, you remain in fed mode and never quite hit the fasted mode required for autophagy.

Now compare that ancestral food environment to the modern food environment:

Almost no one goes hungry. Food is cheap and plentiful, with the tastiest and most calorie-rich stuff tending to be the cheapest and most widely available.

Few people have to physically work for their food. We drive to the store and walk a couple hundred steps, hand over some money, and—BOOM—obtain thirty thousand calories, just like that. Or someone comes to our house and delivers the food directly.

We eat all the time. Unless you set out to do it, chances are you’ll be grazing, snacking, and nibbling throughout the day. We’re in a perpetually fed state.

The average person in a modern society eating a modern industrial diet rarely goes long enough without eating something to trigger autophagy. Nor are they expending enough energy to create an energy deficit from the other end—the output. It’s understandable. If our ancestors were thrust into our current situation, many would fall all over themselves to take advantage of the modern food environment. But that doesn’t make it desirable, or good for you. It just means that figuring out how to trigger autophagy becomes that much more vital for modern humans.

Here are 7 ways to induce autophagy with regular lifestyle choices.

1) Fast

There’s no better way to quickly and reliably induce a large energy deficit than not eating anything at all. There are no definitive studies identifying “optimal” fasting guidelines for autophagy in humans. Longer fasts probably allow deeper levels of autophagy, but shorter fasts are no slouch.

2) Get Keto-Adapted

When you’re keto- and fat-adapted, it takes you less time to hit serious autophagy upon commencing a fast. You’re already halfway there.

3) Train Regularly

With exercise-related autophagy, the biggest effects are seen with lifelong training, not acute. In mice, for example, the mice who are subjected to lifelong exercise see the most autophagy-related benefits. In people, those who have played soccer (football) for their entire lives have far more autophagy-related markers of gene activity than people of the same age who have not trained their whole lives.

4) Train Hard

In studies of acute exercise-induced autophagy, the intensity of the exercise is the biggest predictor of autophagy—even more than whether the athletes are in the fed or fasted state.

5) Drink Coffee

At least in mice, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee induce autophagy in the liver, muscle tissue, and heart. This effect persists even when the coffee is given alongside ad libitum food. These mice didn’t have to fast for the coffee to induce autophagy.

Certain nutrients can trigger autophagy, too….

6) Eat Turmeric

Curcumin, the primary phytonutrient in turmeric, is especially effective at inducing autophagy in the mitochondria (mitophagy).

7) Consume Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The anticancer potential of its main antioxidant, oleuropein, likely occurs via autophagy.

Disclaimer: The autophagy/nutrient literature is anything but definitive. Most studies take place in test tube settings, not living humans. Eating some turmeric probably won’t flip a switch and trigger autophagy right away, but it won’t hurt.

Autophagy is a long game.

This can’t be underscored enough: Autophagy is a lifelong pursuit attained by regular doses of exercise and not overeating every time you sit down to a meal. Staying so ketotic your pee tests look like a Prince album cover, doing epic 7-day fasts every month, fasting every other day, making sure you end every day with fully depleted liver glycogen—while these strategies might be “effective,” obsessing over their measures to hit some “optimal” level of constant autophagy isn’t the point and is likely to activate or trigger neurotic behavior.

Besides, we don’t know what “optimal autophagy” looks like. Autophagy isn’t easy to measure in live humans. You can’t order an “autophagy test” from your doc. We don’t even know if more autophagy is necessarily better. There’s the fact that unchecked autophagy can actually increase existing cancer in some cases. There’s the fact that too much autophagy in the wrong place might be bad. We just don’t know very much. Autophagy is important. It’s good to have some happening. That’s what we have to go on.

Putting These Tips Into Practice

Autophagy happens largely when you just live a healthy lifestyle. Get some exercise and daily activity. Go hard every now and then. Sleep deeply. Recover well. Don’t eat carbohydrates you don’t need and haven’t earned (and I don’t just mean “earned through glycogen depleting-exercise”). Reach ketosis sometimes. Don’t eat more food than you need. Drink coffee, even decaf.

All those caveats aside, I see the utility in doing a big “autophagy session” a few times a year. Here’s how mine looks:

  1. Do a big training session incorporating strength training and sprints. Lots of intense bursts. This will trigger autophagy.
  2. Fast for two or three days. This will push autophagy even further.
  3. Stay busy throughout the fast. Take as many walks as possible. This will really ramp up the fat burning and get you quickly into ketosis, another autophagy trigger.
  4. Drink coffee throughout the fast. Coffee is a nice boost to autophagy. Decaf is fine.

I know people are often skeptical of using “Grok logic,” but it’s likely that most human ancestors experienced similar “perfect storms” of deprivation-induced autophagy on occasion throughout the year. You track an animal for a couple days and come up short, or it takes that long to make the kill. You nibble on various stimulants plucked from the land along the way. You walk a ton and sprint some, then lift heavy. And finally, maybe, you get to eat.

If you find yourself aging well, you’re on the right track. If you’re not progressing from obesity to diabetes, you’re good to go. If you’re maintaining and even building your muscle despite qualifying for the blue plate special, you’ve probably dipping into the autophagy pathway. If you’re thinking clearly, I wouldn’t worry. Obviously, we can’t really see what’s happening on the inside. But if everything you can verify is going well, keep it up.

That’s it for today, folks. If you have any more questions about autophagy, leave them down below and I’ll try to get to all of them in future posts.

Thanks for reading!

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References:

Yang ZJ, Chee CE, Huang S, Sinicrope FA. The role of autophagy in cancer: therapeutic implications. Mol Cancer Ther. 2011;10(9):1533-41.

Barlow AD, Thomas DC. Autophagy in diabetes: ?-cell dysfunction, insulin resistance, and complications. DNA Cell Biol. 2015;34(4):252-60.

Sasaki Y, Ikeda Y, Iwabayashi M, Akasaki Y, Ohishi M. The Impact of Autophagy on Cardiovascular Senescence and Diseases. Int Heart J. 2017;58(5):666-673.

Florencio-silva R, Sasso GR, Simões MJ, et al. Osteoporosis and autophagy: What is the relationship?. Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2017;63(2):173-179.

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