Can autophagy (and fasting) naturally shed excess skin following weight loss?

Written By Claire C

We recently had a fellow faster reach out to us with the following question:

I’ve lost a significant amount of weight and have excess skin. I hear that autophagy can sometimes help you to naturally lose the excess skin. Is this true? There’s a lot of false claims on the internet, so I’m wondering if this is really true.  Any tips for how to do this effectively?”

So, is what you’ve heard true? Can autophagy help you naturally shed excess skin after weight loss?

The short answer: it can!

The long answer: claims that autophagy can reduce excess skin are scientifically supported, but not scientifically proven. In other words, we need more research on the subject.  Although current research suggests that autophagy may help with excess skin, it’s too early to say for sure.  Also, most of the literature notes that there is less excess skin when weight loss has been accomplished with fasting-induced autophagy but doesn’t discuss inducing autophagy after weight loss.  There’s still not a lot out there on using autophagy after weight loss.  However, there are tons of benefits associated with autophagy and fasting so, assuming you’re fasting safely and within the guidelines of your doctor and fasting coach, it can’t hurt to try!

Now, without making any broad scientific claims, here’s what is understood about autophagy and excess skin loss so far… 

Autophagy– the basics:

  • The body’s recycling program
  • Essentially occurs when, in the absence of food, the body begins to eat itself (in a good way!)
    • Results in a breakdown of our old, damaged cells and proteins
    • Transforms these byproducts and broken parts back into raw materials to be reused
    • Makes room for newer and healthier versions
  • Occurs naturally in the body, although scientists aren’t sure exactly how often
    • Autophagy will happen to some extent without fasting, but fasting helps enhance it
  • Sometimes called “fasting 2.0”
  • Is an underlying component of many of the health benefits associated with fasting

How can you trigger autophagy?

  • Evidence strongly indicates that long periods of fasting can trigger the body to induce autophagy
  • Unfortunately, most research on fasting and autophagy has been done in animals, which is one of the reasons why we need more information to make claims about its benefits
  • It’s believed to start around 20 to 24 hours into a fast, but this number appears to vary slightly between sources
    • This timeline is likely dependent on the individual as well

Current information about autophagy and excess skin loss:

  • Dr. Jason Fung has talked a lot about anecdotal observations of people who have experienced extreme weight loss through fasting and had their skin “shrink” due to autophagy
  • As he describes it, autophagy and fasting trigger the body to burn all available resources, including extra skin, when experiencing a lack of food
  • Autophagy can promote skin elasticity, which is important in preventing and reducing loose skin
    • This elasticity essentially helps skin adapt to your new weight more quickly
  • Fasting and autophagy allow for fat loss without a loss of lean muscle mass, which can help prevent or reduce the appearance of excess skin
  • A lack of autophagy causes fibroblasts to suffer
    • These are the cells responsible for producing collagen and other fibers needed to keep skin tight and healthy

What other benefits are associated with autophagy?

  • Studies have shown it can help:
    • Fight infectious diseases
    • Regulate inflammation
    • Increase energy
    • Improved digestion 
    • Boost your immune system
    • Slow the progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases
  • There’s also a possible connection between autophagy and longevity
  • Researchers are really interested in its interaction with cancer, but so far, it’s unclear if these interactions are positive or negative

And, if you experiment with this, please share your findings in the comments below! We’d love to hear what worked and didn’t for you!

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