One of the hallmarks of aging is dysfunctional mitochondria – the cells’ energy powerhouses. Cells have a built-in mechanism for dealing with dysfunctional mitochondria and other disordered organelles and protein molecules, and that mechanism is autophagy (“self-eating”). In autophagy, selected components of the cell are targeted for degradation and the components recycled. Mitochondria removal by autophagy
Mitochondrial dysfunction has severe cellular consequences and is linked with neurodegenerative diseases and aging. Maintaining a healthy population of mitochondria is thus essential for proper cellular homeostasis. Several strategies have evolved to prevent and limit mitochondria damage, and macroautophagy plays a role in degrading superfluous or severely damaged mitochondria. Selective removal of mitochondria by autophagy (termed mitophagy) has been extensively studied recently in both yeast and mammalian cells. In this review, we summarize our current knowledge of mitophagy. We also compare the molecular process of mitophagy with other types of specific autophagic pathways and discuss its biological importance.
Just as dysfunctional mitochondria increase in aging, unfortunately the autophagy process declines: older people (and animals) are unable to ratchet up the degree of autophagy as much as younger. One reason older organisms have this problem is due to cellular sense mechanisms, which detect changes in amino acid concentration in the blood.
One way to increase autophagy is through intermittent fasting. In this case, the prolonged absence of food, and with it amino acids from proteins, causes the cells to start and/or increase autophagy so as to maintain healthful amino acid levels in the system. Autophagy is activated after several hours of fasting.
So, to help keep highly functioning mitochondria in the cells, fast. An easy way to do this is to eat nothing between dinner one evening and lunch the next day. (Coffee and tea are fine.) This way, only one meal, breakfast, is skipped, and it’s pretty easy to do, especially if you already eat low-carb style.