Is AMPK the Key to Fighting Disease?
For millennia, the human race has been searching for the fountain of youth. While some have looked to lotions and potions to give an appearance of youthfulness, others have dug deeper, determined to find the root cause of aging and disease. And it would seem that researchers have actually found not so much a fountain, but a key that unlocks the body’s ability to fight inflammation, the root cause of all disease and aging.
If you’re over the age of 40, you know that with each passing year, you seem to have less energy and less of a metabolism. You eat the same amount of food you did in your 20s and 30s, but now you are packing on the pounds and feeling tired all of the time.
We’ve known for quite some time that part of this phenomena has to do with losing muscle mass. Maintaining muscle on our bodies requires more calories than retaining fat. So the more muscle you have the more calories you will naturally burn. This is why a 20 year-old young man can eat a significant amount of calories and naturally stay thin, while a 50 year-old man can eat the same amount of calories and pack on the pounds.
But it turns out this is only part of the story of why our metabolism seems to slow as we age, and why we easily gain weight, feel tired, and start to develop chronic disease.
AMPK – The Master Energy Regulator
AMPK is short for Adenosine 5′ monophosphate-activated protein kinase. Try saying that even just once! AMPK is an enzyme that is considered your body’s “master regulator of energy metabolism.”
AMPK works as an energy sensor inside of our cells, and researchers are now thinking that, as we age, AMPK activity significantly decreases. This ultimately leads to a change in body weight, energy levels and appetite.
Oddly enough, it is an energy depletion, or to be more accurate, a lack of cellular energy, that stimulates AMPK activity. When there is a lack of energy, the body is told to produce more of the AMP (activated protein kinase).
So how do we intentionally tell our cells to produce more AMP, or more energy? Through natural “stressors” that include calorie restriction, fasting and high intensity exercise. These stressors can not only improve metabolic pathways but also reduce inflammation to support healthy aging.
Let’s take a deeper dive into how increased AMPK activity can benefit your health as you age.
Health Benefits of Increased AMPK
Regulates Energy Usage
AMPK regulates the body’s energy balance by constantly monitoring cellular energy. To make a complex process simple – when your brain’s hypothalamus senses that your energy levels are running low, AMPK is stimulated. The AMPK “decides” to increase your appetite, so you have more fuel or energy coming in, while decreasing your energy expenditure, making you tired in addition to hungry.
Of course, the opposite can happen. If you have too much energy, the brain wakes up your AMPK, which tells your body to NOT be hungry and to move more. Your body may start to fidget to expend excess energy and your body temperature may rise.
Supports Weight Loss
As you just saw, AMPK can cause changes in your appetite. It can also impact how your cells use and store energy. Studies have now indicated AMPK can help your body burn fat and your muscles use more stored glucose for energy. AMPK activation can also improve hormone balance. All of these mechanisms can lead to maintaining a healthy weight.
AMPK has been shown to promote antioxidant activity, which can help your body fight the affects of poor diet, exposure to environmental toxins and chronic stress. AMPK has also been shown to help reduce systemic and chronic inflammation in the body, which, if left unchecked, typically leads to the development of chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
AMPK regulates the way your body stores and uses glucose. This enzyme actually promotes the uptake and usage of glucose while stimulating the breakdown of glucose for energy.
Supports Autophagy and Healthy Aging
Animal studies have concluded that AMPK signaling activates autophagy and cellular renewal. Autophagy is very important to healthy aging as this process forces your body to find damaged cells and “eat them.” This is one way your body can destroy cancer cells before they get out of hand.
This is not an exhaustive list health benefits of activating AMPK, but it gives you an idea of why AMPK activation is so important. And speaking of…
How to Naturally Activate AMPK
The following are the best ways to naturally activate AMPK:
- High Intensity Exercise (HIIT)
- Calorie restriction or fasting
- High antioxidant foods like green tea and olive oil
- Certain supplements like omega-3s, curcumin and zinc
- Exposure to very cold temps
I encourage you to do your own research on this very important enzyme and try some of the natural activators, particularly exercise and intermittent fasting. Although with any changes to your diet and exercise regimen, always speak to your doctor and care team first. If you are currently battling cancer, you may not be able to practice fasting or do intense exercise, but you can add in some great supplements and eat more antibiotic foods.
To your health!