Autophagy is the process by which our cells are cleaned out. The organelles, proteins, and debris that are no longer efficient or effective are packaged and sent on their way, either by degradation or release. Autophagy can dictate not only how well we live but perhaps how long we live. It is a key physiological mechanism that has been conserved throughout evolution for the distinct purpose of allowing the human species to thrive.
When the autophagic mechanisms are overwhelmed or dysfunctional, the cells are unable to perform optimally, which can result in disease or more rapid aging. Autophagy encompasses mitophagy, the removal of damaged mitochondria, lipophagy, the breakdown of lipids by lysosomal organelles, and aggrephagy, the clearance of other cellular proteins and debris, and more.
It is notable that most neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, are associated with the accumulation of misfolded proteins or pathologic proteins. Impaired autophagy causes disease, but the exact mechanism by which it does so is not completely understood, as there are multiple transcription factors, signaling molecules, and chaperone proteins that have been implicated. Regardless, we do know the regulation of autophagy can be affected by our lifestyle, our environment, our nutrient status, and external and internal stressors.
Excerpted from Psychology Today