You are middle-aged. You exercise. You eat right. Your hormones are optimized. And, you still cannot lose all the weight you want to. If that describes you, you are not alone – not that knowing that makes you feel any better. And, what I am about to say probably won’t help much, either. We don’t know why such individuals cannot lose weight. But, we might be one step closer to understanding that mystery with this piece to the puzzle. It’s called AMPK. AMPK stands for adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. In a nutshell, high AMPK levels help to keep us not only thin but also young. Unfortunately, AMPK levels decline with aging.
The main role of AMPK is to prevent energy levels in the cells from dropping below a critical threshold. AMPK is related to ATP. And, as many of you probably know ATP is the main energy molecule that the body runs on. Every cell needs energy and energy is the key to life. As we have said before death begins when energy production ceases. The more ATP stored in a cell the more energy or potential energy that cell has.
As ATP is broken down energy is released and one end product of that process is AMP or adenosine monophosphate. So as ATP levels go down in the cell AMP levels rise. Once a cell uses all of its ATP it will soon die unless there is a way to regenerate more ATP. And, that’s were AMPK comes in.
When AMP levels rise AMPK is released. AMPK increases the burning of fatty acids and glucose providing the cells with additional energy that can be transformed into ATP. That means AMPK is tapping in fat stores for energy. Significant calories are stored in fat but for many reasons those calories can be locked up and not available for use. And, we get fatter as a result. So even though we have this reservoir of calories (energy) in the form of fat we cannot get to it so to speak.
Low testosterone and estrogen inhibit the release of this reservoir of fat calories. Low AMPK levels also prevent the release of this fat source of calories. And, AMPK levels decline with aging. Couple low AMPK levels with aging along with the loss of lean body mass that we discussed in Want to Know Why You Can’t Lose Weight? [This May Surprise You] and we gain weight as we age.
Longevity and AMPK
Elevating your AMPK levels can help with weight loss, but higher levels of AMPK has one other major benefit. It can increase longevity.
Fruit flies genetically modified to produce high levels of AMP live one-third longer than normal fruit flies. And, other organisms with high levels of AMPK have less diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic disorders and thus live longer. AMPK is a calorie-restriction mimetic. In other words, it elicits physiologic changes similar to those that occur from calorie restriction.
It has been known for a long time in every species studied that calorie restriction increases longevity. Activation of AMPK during calorie restriction is one mechanism to explain why that is. AMPK activity is decreased in the presence of high calorie intake. Since there is readily available source of energy when calorie intake is high AMPK is not needed to tap into fat stores when we overeat.
Can you boost your AMPK levels? There are four ways we know of to boost AMPK levels. You can boost your AMPK levels by
- practicing calorie restriction
- taking certain nutritional supplements
- taking metformin the most popular diabetes medication.
Exercise depletes ATP leading to rising AMP which then activates AMPK.
Calorie restriction forces the body to tap into fat stores for energy by activating AMPK. What is considered calorie restriction? That’s hard to know. It can range from simply consuming fewer calories than typical for you. Though some suggest restricting your calories 20% to 40% from usual yet obtaining all the necessary nutrients.
Resveratrol and quercetin are calorie-restriction mimetic that can be obtained as nutritional supplements. Extracts of Gynostemma pentaaphyllum and trans-tillroside extracted from rose hips boost AMPK, too. Life Extension has an AMPK activator that contains these two extracts.
Metformin is the most frequently prescribed drug for type 2 diabetes. Virtually every type 2 diabetic is on metformin unless they are unable to tolerate it. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. So not everyone tolerates it. Metfomin has been described to have anti-aging properties which we discussed in this article. We now know that this property in part is because metformin increases AMPK activity eliciting positive physiologic changes seen with calorie restriction.
This study published in 2014 showed that diabetics taking metformin lived 15% longer than age-matched controls without diabetes. That’s remarkable. Individuals (humans) with a disease lived longer than those free of the disease if those with disease (diabetes) were taking metformin. That is rare to see in medicine – where those treated for a disease do better (longevity in this case) than those without the disease. Roundworms given metformin live 20% longer than untreated roundworms, too.
Now the weight loss in diabetics on metformin is not dramatic – in the range of 5 to 10 pounds, but those studies are on diabetics and not overweight individuals without diabetes. Metformin is being used more and more as an adjunct or part of an overall weight loss program though insurance may not cover the cost of it for those purposes. But, the drug is usually affordable for those wish to try it and pay out-of-pocket for it. The usual dose is 500 to 1000 mg twice a day.
Couple metformin with other strategies to increase AMPK activity and you may find you are able to shed those remaining pounds that have alluded you while increasing your odds of living longer and staying younger.