Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm going on a diet, and here's why...

An article in the New York Times caught my eye today. It inspired me to get out of my back to school and so much to catch up on so why the heck did I get that puppy when the cat died funk, and start writing again.

(yes, we got a puppy. By the way: puppy + psoriatic arthritis = really achy joints, a few second thoughts and lots of laughing. Back to the science - more on puppy later.)

The NYT's front page story was on autophagy, which was described as:
Our cells ... perpetually devouring themselves, shredding their own complex molecules to pieces and recycling them for new parts.
Apparently, we all have proteasomes and lysosomes, two types of small structures inside of cells that are recycling machines. They work day and night eating cells and spitting out the remains, which are used to build new cells. One scientist was quoted saying that we get an entirely new heart every 3 days due to the continual cell destruction and re-creation. WOW.

Scientists are now starting to believe that autophagy (or the lessening of autophagy as we get older) has a lot to do with the development of Alzheimer's and cancer. While autophagy doesn't necessarily cease as we age, it slows down, causing more and more cells to live longer and therefore mutate, leading to illness. The current thinking is that if we can control autophagy, we may live longer.

OK, fellow autoimmune specialists... doesn't "autophagy" remind you of another cellular process we're all really familiar with? Isn't autoimmune disease caused when our immune system (different cells, I know, but...) destroys our own cells mistakenly? Couldn't autoimmune disease be related to autophagy? And, could this slew of new research also support research in autoimmune disease?

It turns out that scientists are starting to connect the dots between autophagy and autoimmunity. While the NYT article doesn't mention autoimmune disease, there is some great work out along these lines:
The connection between autophagy and immunity should be emphasized in that autophagy contributes to the defense against microbial agents [5, 12], promotes antigen presentation through MHC class II [13, 14], is induced by cytokines [5, 15, 16], may regulate T lymphocyte survival and function [17], and may be stimulated by serum autoantibodies [18].
This is from an article by a ton of docs (Ana Lleo, MD, Pietro Invernizzi, MD PhD, Carlo Selmi, MD PhD, Ross L. Coppel, MD, Gianfranco Alpini, PhD, Mauro Podda, MD, Ian R. Mackay, MD, and M. Eric Gershwin, MD) linking autoimmunity and autophagy in the Journal of Autoimmunity (2007). The article is long and complex, so I'll cut to the chase. They conclude:
In the context of immunity, there is clear evidence for participation of autophagy in intracellular defense against infectious agents and also perhaps, in disposal of unwanted e.g. misfolded self proteins, although there is no evidence yet for an ensuing inflammatory response to such disposal.
As always, lots to learn on this topic, but there are some smart people out there trying to put all these pieces together. I'll keep watching, and will write more when I learn more.

OK, so I can hear you asking: "why the diet?".

Here's why. Autophagy kicks in when our bodies have fewer new proteins coming in... you've all heard of the process where our body starts "eating" itself when it has less food. And it is well documented that people on permanently lower calorie diet are healthier... turns out semi-starvation is kinda good for you. Scientists think that inducing this "cannibalism" increases the destruction of older, dysfunctional cells - those that cause Alzheimer's and cancer. So I wonder if the same is true of autoimmunity. In short:

Would a lower calorie diet induce autophagy, and help our bodies destroy those cells that are mis-firing and causing our immune systems to act up?

BTW, because of the dog, I've lost 3 pounds, just from walking. I look fabulous. And if I just stop eating, I'll apparently be able to walk the dog 'til I'm 150.

Where's the leash?


  1. Very interesting. You got me thinking about Dr. Roy Walford, the late guru of calorie restricted diet. He only made it to age 79 before Lou Gehrig's disease caught up with him. But his laboratory work was quite convincing.

    I think he focused on insulin as the bad actor in aging and disease, but maybe the current research on Epigenetic mechanisms will shed some new light on his work.

  2. http://www.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab006400.html

    Lots of people are researching this. The link above is about rheumatoid arthritis, the same may be true for psoriatic arthritis. Basically starving yourself may help, but there are lots of other reasons why this is bad for you (you are a lot more likely to get a life threatening infection, for instance). Walking the dog is still a good idea though :-)