You’ve probably heard of cleanse diets—most likely from your favorite organic juice shop, or if you were trying to pass a drug test. (Yeah, we know why you really visit your favorite supplement store.)
These are the juice cleanses or liver and kidney detoxifiers that are marketed as a way to rid your body of toxins, improve the functioning of your internal organs, and help you age better.
All of these products are created with a lack of understanding of how your body works. Or, maybe they know exactly how your body works and are just selling you a pet rock.
The alleged benefits and glossy marketing of juice cleanses (heal this, fix that) just aren’t accurate with what’s happening in your body.
The only real cleanse occurs at the cellular level. It’s called autophagy (aw-tof-a-gee), and it’s your body’s ability to regenerate and become better.
Autophagy helps you repair injuries, makes your brain function a little better, helps with muscle growth and fat loss, and even assists in your ability to walk and breathe.
You see, every day there are millions of cellular reactions occurring in your body. Some of this activity causes damage within your body. As with any equipment that is used a lot, the daily stress causes breakdown.
Fortunately, your body is built for such circumstances and can naturally heal anything that isn’t working at an optimal level. This is autophagy.
So what happens when your internal repair is slow and lazy and doesn’t get the job done? That’s when you have a damaged internal environment. More specifically, when your workers don’t repair your mitochondria—the cellular power plant of your body—then your body is basically screwed.
Fortunately your body has a built-in cleansing system that is working 24 hours a day; and I’m not talking about your liver or your kidneys.
I’m talking about true deep-down cleansing – the cleansing that occurs on the cellular level. The cleansing that is far beyond anything a lemon juice/milk thistle cocktail could ever provide.
So if you want to know how to potentially help your system–as well as what benefit you’ll really receive from those juice cleanses–then it’s time to sip on a drink called truth serum. In this case, the information is powered by Brad Pilon, author of Eat Stop Eat, research genius, and pioneer in intermittent fasting. Bottoms up.
The Real Body Cleanse
Autophagy is a process within your body that is responsible for degrading damaged and defective organelles, cell membranes and proteins. Or put more simply, it is the internal ‘custodial system’ that your body uses to identify and discard the damaged or malfunctioning parts of a cell.
During any given day of your life there are millions if not billions of cellular reactions that occur in your body, and over time, some of these reactions can lead to damage – just like adding miles to a car eventually leads to wear and tear on its parts.
But unlike a car, your body has its own built in mechanics that can identify and repair this damage. But without the proper repair we can build up broken cellular machinery (like damaged mitochondria). When this happens, it is truly toxic to the human body.
Damaged mitochondria are at the top of the list of things that are ‘bad for you’.
The only reason you probably haven’t heard of them is because we don’t ‘consume’ them through our diet, instead they’re a by-product of the normal functioning of your body.
An accumulation of damaged cellular machinery like this can cause a wide range of unhealthy effects. Damaged mitochondria can cause damage within your cells and the cells around. This process has been linked to an accelerated aging rate[ii], and many types of chronic disease.
Autophagy is also of increasing interest as a target for cancer therapy,[iii] treatment of alcoholic liver disease,[iv] and as a crucial defense mechanism against malignancy, infection and neurodegenerative disease.[v],[vi],[vii],[viii],[ix] What’s more, research has even found a that autophagy can help the body defend against both bacteria and viruses.[x],[xi],[xii],[xiii]
Fasting vs. Juicing: The Non-Debate
There’s no mystery why juicing has been offering as a cleanse solution. The theory is simple:
Take a bunch of nutrient rich foods in high concentrated doses and feed them to the body over and over and over again.
Is it healthy? Sure. A kale-romanaine-broccoli-lemon-apple infusion never hurt anyone.
And it’s no surprise that people lose weight. Drinking 800 calories per day of liquid greens is simple math, not magic. It’s not the juice doing the work; it’s the lack of food.
But the alleged benefits and glossy marketing of juice cleanses (heal this, fix that) just aren’t accurate with what’s happening in your body.
Specifically–and almost ironically for the juicing companies of the world–the act of eating actually works against autophagy, which as you now know is the real way to cleanse your cells.
According to research in both humans and animals, the more time spent you spend the fed state, the less time you have to really ramp up the autophagic (cellular cleansing) process within your body.
This is originally where short-term bouts of fasting became part of a healthy routine (if done correctly). One of the major health benefits of fasting is that it improves autophagy.
The principle signal to “turn up” autophagy the act of entering the fasted state.
If fasting is the signal to turn on autophagy, then eating is the signal to turn it off. Even small amounts of glucose or amino acids are able to inhibit autophagy, as amino acids together with the hormone insulin are its principle negative regulators.[xiv]
Recent research has shown that as little as 10 grams of amino acids is enough to decrease autophagy markers in otherwise fasting humans. So even a small meal in the middle of a fast may be enough to blunt the increased autophagic processes associated with fasting.
Does this mean aminos are bad or offset all of the potential benefits of intermittent fasting? Of course not. But it does mean that the rise insulin can simply mean that from an autophagy, cleansing perspective that taking in aminos won’t optimize the autophagic process.
Intermittent Fasting: How it Fights Disease, Improves Health, and Builds Muscle
The process of autophagy and its importance in cleansing is the main reason why some researchers are speculating that intermittent fasting can improve neuronal function and overall health in a way that is unique from any other style of dieting or calorie restriction.[xv],[xvi]
The research on fasting and neuronal diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s is looking very promising, as fasting has been found to cause a rapid and profound upregulation of autophagy in the brain.[xvii],[xviii],[xix]
Translation: fasting has the potential to remove toxins and damaged mitochondria from your neurons that cause or augment these diseases[xx], [xxi],[xxii],[xxiii]
It is also the reason why some people think that intermittent fasting can help regulate and fight against the aging process.
‘Aging’ occurs because our internal system wears down over time.
We have less resistance to stress, increased vulnerability to disease, and an increased probability of death. That’s what makes autophagy and fasting so interesting; research suggests that it can improve many of these areas.[xxiv]
And the benefits of understand how to turn autophagy “on and off” even extends into the health of your muscles. That is, when you have excess levels of autophagy, you can experience a loss of muscle mass, skeletal fiber degeneration, and weakness.[xxv]
In other words, the goal isn’t to be in a constant state of autophagy. This where people go on super long fasts thinking that more is better. You still need food and periods when autophagy is turned “off” for your body to grow and function as best as possible.
Remember: It’s not just your workouts that break you down and build you back up. Everyone focuses on rest, but your diet does the same thing, and this break down is just as vital to your long term health as the building back up.
This is what you want for the your best health: by allowing for growth when you eat and the autophagic process of repair maintenance and cleansing when you are fasting, you can help restore a balance to how your cells function, not to mention potentially prevent muscle loss as you age.
This will sound obvious, but you need balance to create your best health plan.
This is why going on juice cleanses are never the answer. There’s nothing balanced about 5 days on nothing but juice.
Just that same, you can’t overeat all the time or fast all the time without expecting some sort of negative repercussions.
By allowing for growth when we eat, and the autophagic process of repair, maintenance, and cleansing when we are fasting, we help restore a balance in the body that may be a missing link in the prevention of many of today’s deadly and debilitating diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, liver disease, and even loss of muscle size and function.
If you love research…
Sourcing information is always a slippery slope. Just listing resources doesn’t do much, but without the research some people don’t trust the information. So here’s a boatload of references used as background for the information shared.
[i] Deter RL, De Duve C. Influence of glucagon, an inducer of cellular autophagy, on some physical properties of rat liver lysosomes. J Cell Biol 1967;33:437-449
[ii] A.M. Cuervo, E. Bergamini, U.T. Brunk, W. Droge, M. Ffrench, A. Terman, Autophagy and aging: the importance of maintaining ”clean” cells, Autophagy 1 (2005) 131e140.
[iii] Joon-Ho Sheen, Roberto Zoncu, Dohoon Kim, David M. Sabatini Defective Regulation of Autophagy upon Leucine Deprivation Reveals a Targetable Liability of Human Melanoma Cells In Vitro and In Vivo. Cancer Cell, Volume 19, Issue 5, 613-628, 17 May 2011
[iv] Ding, WX. The emerging role of autophagy in alcoholic liver disease Exp Biol Med 1 May 2011: 546-556.
[v] Hara T, et al. Suppression of basal autophagy in neural cells causes neurodegenerative disease in mice. Nature 2006; 441:885-9
[vi] Komatsu M, et al. Loss of autophagy in the central nervous system causes neurodegeneration in mice. Nature 2006; 441:880-4
[vii] Mizushima N, Levine B, Cuervo AM, Klionsky DJ. Autophagy fights disease through cellular self-digestion. Nature 2008; 451:1069-75
[viii] Alirezaei M, Kiosses WB, Flynn CT, Brady NR, Fox HS. Disruption of neuronal autophagy by infected microglia results in neurodegeneration. PLoS ONE 2008; 3:2906
[ix] Orvedahl A, Levine B. Eating the enemy within: autophagy in infectious diseases. Cell Death Differ 2009; 16:57-69
[x] K. Kirkegaard, M.P. Taylor, W.T. Jackson, Cellular autophagy: surrender, avoidance and subversion by microorganisms, Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 2 (2004) 301e314
[xi] B. Levine, Eating oneself and uninvited guests: autophagy-related pathways in cellular defense, Cell 120 (2005) 159e162
[xii] M. Ogawa, C. Sasakawa, Bacterial evasion of the autophagic defense system, Curr. Opin. Microbiol. 9 (2006) 62e68
[xiii] M.S. Swanson, Autophagy: eating for good health, J. Immunol. 177 (2006) 4945e4951.
[xiv] T Kanazawa, Ikue Taneike, Ryuichiro Akaishi, Fumiaki Yoshizawa, Norihiko Furuya, Shinobu Fujimura, and Motoni Kadowaki. Amino Acids and Insulin Control Autophagic Proteolysis through Different Signaling Pathways in Relation to mTOR in Isolated Rat Hepatocytes. THE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY Vol. 279, No. 9, Issue of February 27, pp. 8452-8459, 2004
[xv] Anson RM, et al. Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2003; 100:6216-20
[xvi] Duan W, et al. Dietary restriction normalizes glucose metabolism and BDNF levels, slows disease progression, and increases survival in huntingting mutant mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2003; 100:2911-6
[xvii] Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy. 2010 Aug;6(6):702-10.
[xviii] Hara, N., K. Nakamura, M. Matsui, A. Yamamato, Y. Nakahara, R. Suzuki-Migishima, M. Yokoyama, K. Mishima, I. Saito, H. Okana, and N. Mizushima. Suppression of basal autophagy in neural cells causes neurodegenerative disease in mice. Nature. In press
[xix] Komatsu M, et al. Loss of autophagy in the central nervous system causes neurodegeneration in mice. Nature 2006; 441:880-4
[xx] Jaeger PA, Wyss-Coray T. All-you-can-eat: autophagy in neurodegeneration and neuroprotection. Mol Neurodegener 2009; 4:16
[xxi] Hung SY, Huang WP, Liou HC, Fu WM. Autophagy protects neuron from Aβ-induced cytotoxicity. Autophagy 2009; 5:502-10.
[xxii] Donati A, Cavallini G., Paradiso C., Vittorini S., Pollera M., Gori Z. and E. B. Age-related changes in the autophagic proteolysis of rat isolated liver cells: effects of antiaging dietary restrictions. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2001; 56: B375-383.
[xxiii] Rubinsztein DC. The roles of intracellular protein-degradation pathways in neurodegeneration. Nature. 2006; 443: 780-786
[xxiv] Tohyama D, Yamaguchi A and Yamashita T. Inhibition of a eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF2Bdelta/F11A3.2) during adulthood extends lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans. FASEB J. 2008; 22: 4327-4337
[xxv] Sandri M. Autophagy in health and disease. 3. Involvement of autophagy in muscle atrophy. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol 2010; 298:C1291-7
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.