How to Activate Autophagy – TIPS with Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, PhD
Hey, good morning everyone. I wanted to
share with you a super treat.
You’ve been flipping out over the videos
that I’ve been sharing around autophagy
and I thought what better way than to
sit down with my friend and someone who
I have so much respect for, that’s been
truly at the forefront of autophagy, of
intermittent fasting, of resveratrol, of
the process of creating optimal health
as we age.
Dr. Christiaan, thank you I appreciate
being in your backyard at the University
of Florida here.
– Yeah I’m very pleased to
be here and a nice lovely setting in the
morning and we can talk about this self
devouring process of autophagy: the self
eating of the cell.
And tell us a little bit
about umm -You’ve been studying how we
perform at our optimal you know for over
20 years you’ve been researching and
sharing your amazing findings with the
world. What got you interested in a autophagy – can you just share with us a little
bit about that journey?
– Yeah, so initially I studied
antioxidant enzymes and a
small peptide called glutathione, which
is a very important intracellular
antioxidant. And umm I studied this in the
context with aging and in muscle and
performance of the animals. And umm so that
got my interest of course I had
wonderful mentors and I was fortunate to
do this work in at the University of
Illinois and University of Wisconsin.
-What was it about autophagy like where did
that sort of come in?
– Autophagy came in at
the University of Florida when I met
Bill Done and we did some work with
exercising animals and caloric
restricted animals and we were one of
the first to show that even with
exercise or reducing the calories this
autophagy process is turned on and helps
again this the cell to recycle and to
repair and become healthier and more
resistant against stress.
-So why just for the viewer, why,
why is autophagy so important?
-Yeah, so as we age, or even
as we’re young
proteins and DNA become damaged and they
turn over so we need very healthy
proteins and peptides and DNA and RNA.
And due to variety of stresses from
oxidative stress, to glycated stress
reactive nitrogen species. So, different
forms of stresses can damage those small
peptides or proteins so we need to
remove them quickly to get new healthy
ones in place of those. So, we can
optimally you know function in the cell.
-For you personally, I mean you’re – I’m
obsessed with the way you live your life
and I’m always trying to emulate and
learn from you, so you know I’ve had the
privilege of running stadiums with you
in a very different way. But, how do you-
When you wake up in the morning, how do
you think about autophagy in your own body
and activating it?
Yeah, I first thing I
think is not to go eat immediately and
try to move now that doesn’t mean every
day I do that and some days I I fast and
we’ll talk about that. So this autophagy
process gets turned on when you’re
actually fasting or not eating. Umm so, I wait
I try to move, I’m here in a little my
little oasis. I can swim or do some
exercises and get going, maybe drink some
tea some of the compounds in tea can
stimulate it even more. And then I think
later on about movement and exercise, so
that’s a one thing I do.
– So the exercise, the compounds, and the tea…
and those things for you, you know. You’re
like I’m stimulating via talk to key
within my body.
– Absolutely, and umm, you know
again on the other -and we need to
have periods of fasting, as well on the
base that we’re maybe not exercising. And
one simple way there’s various ways you
is to again have a very light breakfast:
Banana, peanut butter sandwich- not have
lunch, and then have you know dinner at
normal time: Six o’clock. And again you
overnight, before that, you didn’t eat. So,
you have quickly a period of time of sixteen
plus hours, where you have a very low
caloric intake. Umm during this time,
obviously, you need to be careful and hydrate
and you can have a treat like a piece of
chocolate nothing wrong with that,
because some of the compounds in there
are also shown to be beneficial.
I had a piece of chocolate yesterday. And
you know, I was born in Switzerland,
you’re from the Netherlands,
and I think you know – we know I my
grandmother taught me at a very young
age, like have a piece of dark chocolate
every day and there are so many good
nutrients- compounds in it.
– Yeah, you know…
epicatechins are in there and flavanols.
And umm yeah, especially when the body has
actually very little during these
fasting periods, you take some of those
compounds, it stimulates it even more. In
fact, one study in the heart, we showed
that caloric restriction plus
resveratrol is having an effect. Where
caloric restriction alone in the, in the
old hearts was not as effective. So as we
get old, certain pathways to turn on autophagy biological pathways are not optimal
and they need a little help from time to
time. So, combinational, combinational
types of therapies and treatments are
going to be the future.
– So, interesting that you brought up resveratrol.
So it was a decade ago that I read- and I read
an article in a local newspaper, where
Dr. Christiaan had done a study on
resveratrol and that was the light bulb
for me that got me so excited to go down
that pathway. And I went to the South of
France, and I worked with the University
of Bordeaux, and I really got passionate
about all the polyphenols found in the
red grape. But tell us about that study
on the sirtuins and resveratrol and maybe
just break it down
like to a simple level and why you got
interested in resveratrol in the first
– Yeah so, you know others have made
some remarkable discoveries. Like David
Sinclair on the mechanisms and before
that there was the French paradox, where
people that actually eat a lot of fatty
cheese, fatty food, and high caloric intake.
And they drank wine- they had a lower
incidence of cardiovascular disease. So,
people start thinking about what is it,
possibly in the wine? I think maybe it’s
the cheese, you know? But it’s something
in the wine and quickly people found the
compound resveratrol. And both from long
longevity studies, in variety of species
from worms, mice, and mechanistic studies
in cells they were able to pinpoint that
it stimulates sirtuins.
Which are –
– Yes, explain what sirtuins are.
– Well sirtuins are a
family of proteins. And there’s many of
them that have a wide variety of
functions to tell genes to wake up and
to activate, and make certain protective
proteins- to further help and protect the
cells. So, they’re central they’re like a
master gene of aging, to keep a cell very
healthy and optimizing. But again, it’s a
signaling protein that helps to generate
other proteins that are important for
health. And some are compounds like you
know epicatechin I mentioned,
resveratrol, vanilla. Umm you know compounds
in tea. I’m drinking tea right now. But
they can also turn and increase your
energy indirectly by making more
mitochondria, by turning on another
master gene, which is PGC-1alpha. So
yeah, we want metabolism, we want healthy
mitochondria, and we want to turn those
over as well. And, and repair and remodel
– So, by incorporating resveratrol,
the epicatechins found in things like
dark chocolate… the different
antioxidants found in the tea, the
These can all sort of help to switch on
and trigger these sirtuins?
Absolutely. And again, what I
mentioned earlier as well
is your biggest intervention still are
going to be exercising, chloric
deprivation from time to time in
combination with those
I think is optimal.
So both nutrition, lifestyle
changes are going to be critical. To
optimize this process.
– Exercise. Tell us a
little bit about what exercise means to
you, and how we can simply incorporate it.
– Yeah, so you saw my gym earlier. There’s no
So, it’s a play gym that your
daughter shares with you right?
– It’s very cool. I like, I like this idea
it not being like a structured.
– Structured. Yeah, I’m not a favor.. in favor of
structured. I bike to work. So normal daily
activities: walking, biking, playing, gardening… Those
are going to be again, in my belief
your foundation and then in addition
some strength training. Now I get some
strength training with my daughter
because we do a lot of you know balance
and would play around a lot.
That’s really exciting and good news. You know,
for everybody to think of it where we
just move in our day and we play and we’re…
– Critical, critical
And you know we are modern
humans. And this is a good and
a bad thing. We have a lot of
conveniences of daily life. We sit in
front of computers. That’s what I mean
with the modern, modern human. They’re
very inactive during the day, so it’s
important during the day to find breaks
to stimulate metabolism. Again, we didn’t
talk much about the overall goal is to
motivate and stimulate metabolism at the
right time. Umm, of course we talked about
exercise and, and, and restriction of
calories, but if you’re exercising a lot,
sure! You need to eat. And I I love food I
eat a lot don’t get me wrong. So, you have
to have that balance.
We talked a little earlier about
circadian biology and circadian rhythms.
And you want to keep those very balanced
as well, because they will help with autophagy.
And if you disrupt that, the autophagy
won’t work and what is the circadian
biology is we have clocks and there’s
some very famous professors here at the
University of Florida, like Karen Esther,
who’s studying this. And you don’t want
to disrupt those clocks. And how can you
make sure you don’t disrupt them again
regular being very rigorous and when you
go to bed, when you eat, and when you move.
And you need to keep that in tune as
well, so that helps metabolism.
The circadian rhythms and, and you know I
understood that every single cell in our
body… just like every single cell has, has
the ability to activate or deactivate
autophagy it also has a little clock within
it. And a 2017 Nobel Prize was in
Yeah it’s an absolutely
you know hot topic and it
makes total sense. And you know they’re
finding you know everything: plants-
anything has clocks. And it responds to
– And again we talked earlier
about light. It’s important to wake up
and get it get a good pattern of life
people are afraid for light, but we need
light to live and to keep the clock in
balance. So it’s important to go outside
and, and move there as well, and get
– I have you know very strong
feelings on the benefit of light and us
being in the Sun. And just curious, for
you, how much time do you spend in the
Sun? And are you putting things like
sunscreen on, or are you letting your body?
– Absolutely. I put sunscreen on. My
wife is very good about this. And I
I think about 15-20 years ago I made
sure I was better protective. I wear
long sleeve shirt. But it’s okay for 20-30 minutes to
take, to take the shirt off
and get some exposure with some
sunscreen. But I think- yeah, light is
critical. And you know if people don’t
get exposure that’s going to be not only
vitamin D, but it’s gonna have more
effects on the cell, which has to do with
circadian biology, which can then affect
autophagy as well.
– So cool. Dr. Christian I am…
for me, it’s an honor to be able to come
over to your house in the morning on the
way to work. You’re you’re flying off to
Dubai today… a world-renowned expert.
You’ve dedicated your life really to the
biology of Aging. Your work of the aging
Institute and to be able to have the
privilege to pick your brain for a
couple minutes this morning it’s just
it’s like a dream come true.
It’s like a dream come true and I
truly can’t thank you enough.
– Thank you and you know my goal is to
optimize like we discussed earlier…
everybody’s maximum potential at every
decade. And optimize our health span and
our performance. Doesn’t matter how old
you are. It’s very important for me to
help with that, and to give people
information on the basic science side to
– Well you’re incredible. And again,
thank you so much for the opportunity to learn.
– Thank you Naomi, it’s great pleasure.