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AMPK. It’s an acronym you’ve probably never heard of—but it’s vital for your well-being. Studies link this little-known enzyme with weight loss, blood sugar balance, resistance to disease, robust aging, and a longer, healthier life. Here’s what you need to know:
What AMPK Is and How It Works
AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) is a fuel-sensing enzyme that regulates how our bodies use energy. Found in every cell, it’s the metabolic master switch, telling cells when to stop storing fat, and when to start using existing fat stores. When it’s activated, AMPK stimulates energy-generating processes, increasing cellular glucose uptake, decreasing production and storage of new fat cells and burning stored body fat.
AMPK also triggers mitochondrial biogenesis, a cellular process that results in the creation of new, healthy mitochondria—the energy-producing powerhouses of the cells. Damaged or dysfunctional proteins and organelles are broken down and recycled, a process known as autophagy, or mitophagy. The result: optimal mitochondrial function, increased energy output, and improved cellular efficiency. That’s important, since mitochondrial dysfunction plays a key role in the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as cardiovascular disease and other afflictions of aging.
And AMPK works in concert with another acronym you’ve probably never heard of—SIRT1 (silent information regulator T1), a molecule belonging to a family of enzymes called sirtuins. Like AMPK, sirtuins are present in every cell in your body. Also like AMPK, SIRT1 is involved in metabolic regulation and cellular health, impacting cellular responses to stress, dampening inflammation, and decreasing fat storage and new fat production.
Turning on that metabolic switch is a critical factor in keeping your body lean, strong, and balanced, even into your golden years. Substantial research shows that activating AMPK reduces blood sugar levels, improves insulin resistance, inhibits the synthesis of new fat cells, decreases dangerous visceral fat (or belly fat), lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, dampens inflammation, protects against chronic disease, and may enhance longevity. But as we grow older, AMPK activation declines, leaving us more vulnerable to weight gain, inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, low energy, and destructive factors associated with aging.
A number of studies show caloric restriction and intermittent fasting increase AMPK activation. In the absence of caloric intake and incoming energy stores, cells are prompted to function more efficiently. Vigorous or prolonged exercise has a similar effect, increasing cellular needs that exceed available energy. The problem: caloric restriction and exercise only go so far. When normal eating resumes and calories are replenished, AMPK activity decreases, and few people have the time or inclination for the level of exercise required to amp up AMPK.
5 Supplements that Activate AMPK Naturally
The good news: some natural supplements have been shown to turn on the body’s metabolic master switch in much the same way as caloric restriction and exercise. Try these science-backed supplements shown to activate AMPK and protect your body from the effects of aging:
A plant alkaloid found in goldenseal, Oregon grape, barberry, and other plants, berberine works by interacting with genes involved in fat burning and activating AMPK similar to exercise. In research, berberine has been shown to increase fat burning in cells, lower blood triglycerides, reduce body weight, and significantly improve insulin sensitivity without altering food intake.
2. Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)
This herb has long been used in traditional Asian medicine to enhance longevity—it’s also called “immortality herb.” In studies, Jiaogulan has been shown to activate AMPK, leading to reductions in triglycerides, total and LDL-cholesterol, balanced blood sugar, and improved insulin resistance. Other research suggests the herb increases fat burning, promotes weight loss, and lessens the accumulation of visceral fat.
Abundant in sweet orange, lemon, and other citrus fruits, hesperidin activates AMPK, normalizing blood sugar and insulin and inhibiting fat accumulation. Research also shows hesperidin lowers levels of inflammatory chemicals, maintains balanced cholesterol levels, and protects blood vessels from damage, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another type of flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables (including strawberries, apples, grapes, mangos, tomatoes, and onions), fisetin activates AMPK, and research suggests it can lower blood sugar and improve insulin resistance. Other studies show fisetin has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, and may lessen the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
5. Rosehip Extract
High in tiliroside (also found in strawberries and raspberries), reship extract has been shown to activate AMPK, decrease total fat and body weight, prevent weight gain, and significantly reduce visceral fat. Other studies suggest tiliroside balances triglycerides and harmful LDL cholesterol, increases protective HDL cholesterol and lowers blood sugar—in some cases, as well as Metformin, a most common prescription medication for type 2 diabetes.