The term autophagy may not sound familiar to you just yet, but it’s shaping up to be the wellness buzzword of 2018. Derived from the Greek “auto” meaning self, and “phagy,” meaning eat, it’s the process in which our cells remove toxins and repair their own damage. The 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine was awarded to a Japanese scientist, Yoshinori Ohsumi, and his autophagy discoveries pertaining to disease, and now it’s entering the beauty and wellness world.
Naomi Whittel, a nutritionist and wellness expert who travels the world sourcing ingredients that promote health, and learning from the locals and experts who use them (dream job!), found out about autophagy by chance on a trip to Italy. She then spent four years researching and writing Glow15, a book which outlines a lifestyle program that helps women activate autophagy. It’s a process that already occurs naturally within our body, but Whittel discovered certain foods, types of exercise and ingredients in skincare that activate it to more thoroughly cleanse our cells. Her book claims that cleaner cells can lead to weight loss, more energy and younger looking skin.
“In all cells, including the cells of the skin, autophagy works to collect and recycle damaged cell parts,” says Richard C. Wang, an assistant professor of the Department of Dermatology at UT Southwestern Medical Center who worked with Whittel on Glow15. “This allows them to grow and divide and helps the skin form a stronger barrier, which is essential to preventing water loss and the entry of harmful chemicals and microorganisms.” Healthier cells equal better health in general from head to toe.
Ahead, we chat with Whittel about the age-defying power of autophagy.
How did you learn about autophagy?
I was on a work trip to Calabria, Italy where this amazing citrus bergamot fruit that’s supposed to help with cholesterol grows. I met this one scientist who drank three cups of citrus bergamot tea a day because she said it activates autophagy. I’d never heard about it before, but was very intrigued because it’s a process that we all have naturally in our bodies. It’s so cool that it’s not something you have to take. All you have to do is activate it and it helps to eat up the accumulation of toxic buildup, so our cells start to act like they did when we were younger. I quickly became obsessed and reached out to scientists all over the world who had expertise in autophagy—what I learned from them over the next four years became the basis for Glow15. Then, while I was writing the book the Japanese biologist won the Nobel Prize for his work with autophagy—so it’s definitely becoming more and more known.
So, what is the Glow15 plan?
It’s a lifestyle that can really help anyone to stay younger—meaning lose weight, reduce fine lines, gain energy, sleep better and just feel healthier. You do it through small changes to the way you exercise, by incorporating certain foods and skincare ingredients and by adopting different sleeping techniques. They are just simple methods you can incorporate into your everyday life to help your cells grow from the inside out.
How is this different than other diets and lifestyle plans?
Well, it’s the first that's geared around activating the autophagy process in your body—since you’re detoxing and cleansing your cells it has anti-aging benefits.
It’s also not about eliminating or depriving yourself of anything, just about making small tweaks, like changing your skincare products, your sleeping habits, how you exercise and when you eat—which can be just as important as what you eat. All the recipes in the book aren’t about counting calories, they're about good fat.
What about things like sugar and alcohol?
It’s much more about timing. You want to eat the fat first, and the carbs last. You should never start your day with carbs, but with good fats like eggs and avocados. They are so satiating and healthy, and can help you become more of a fat-burner versus a sugar-burner.
I believe that #polyphenols are one of the best ways to supplement the #Glow15 diet. These antioxidants protect against free radical stress and damage to cells. Eating a polyphenol-rich diet will activate #autophagy to produce similar effects as IFPC ( #IntermittentFasting and #ProteinCycling) in regulating life span and your #metabolism. And some of the best sources of polyphenols are also the most indulgent. . For example, the polyphenol #resveratrol, found in red wine 🍷, has been shown to activate #autophagy to reduce inflammation, boost heart health, and inhibit breast cancer. Go ahead, pour yourself a glass. And grab some dark chocolate 🍫, too-it’s filled with polyphenols that activate autophagy. It also protects against free radical destruction, increases fat breakdown, and helps stave off hunger. . Food sources for polyphenols include: Fruits: bergamot, black currants, blueberries, plums, prunes, strawberries Herbs and spices: basil, cloves, cumin, peppermint Nuts and seeds: almonds, flaxseed, hazelnuts, walnuts Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, black olives, broccoli, capers, chicory, endive, leafy greens, red lettuce, spinach, tomatoes Other: red wine, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, coffee, green tea
You say it’s not about depriving yourself, but there is a fasting component?
Yes, there’s scheduled eating—as I said it’s all about timing. You have high days and low days every other day. On the high days, you do everything as you normally would, but on low days you stop eating at 8 p.m., skip breakfast and begin eating again at noon. If you’re a breakfast person, you can skip dinner instead. You just want to eat for a period of eight hours and then fast for 16 hours. It takes a bit of time to get used to, but the benefits are so great. Every single cell in your body gets a break from digesting food and starts to do the autophagy repair work. Autophagy is like a little doctor inside of your cell that says, okay we're going to clean out this junk, and it gets done when you’re not eating.
What about skincare?
I worked with a dermatologist and we identified four ingredients that activate autophagy when applied to the skin: caffeine, ceramides from wheat germ, polyphenols (the antioxidants found in red wine, dark berries, citrus bergamot) and a sweetener called trehalose. So, look for skincare with these ingredients and you’ll see changes in about eight weeks.
Where does the 15 days come into play?
We say once you make these changes, you’ll see results in just 15 days. Which was actually a surprise! I first tested the Glow15 method on myself and some others, then we did a study at Jacksonville University where every single one of the 35 women saw results within 15 days. So, we decided to jumpstart it from there—anyone can do something for 15 days. Once you do that and see that you have more energy, you’ve lost weight, you’re sleeping better, you have more mental focus, you’ll probably want to continue and make it your lifestyle—which is really the goal rather than 15 days.
What is the exercise component?
It’s super simple: less is more when activating autophagy through exercise. You don’t want to exercise too much, just every other day for 30 minutes. You do interval training—which could just mean walking at a faster pace for a minute and then slowing down for the next minute—back and forth for 30 minutes at whatever level you’re at. Also, resistance training, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym. I use my own body weight or cans or water bottles I have in my house. I don't like to go to the gym, I haven’t been in three years.
This all sounds a little too good to be true!
I know! But that's what happens when we work with our own body. Our body is so brilliant and has so many powerful mechanisms.