During exercise or times of caloric restriction, the body responds by activating an enzyme known as Adenosine Monophosphate-activated protein kinase, or AMPK. AMPK is found inside every cell and serves as your body’s “master regulating switch.”
When AMPK is activated, cells go into a survival mode: making and storing no new fat while burning up available fat from storage, pumping glucose in from the blood for additional energy, building new mitochondria for more efficient energy use, and recycling damaged or dysfunctional proteins. In essence, activated AMPK promotes energy-releasing processes while suppressing energy-storing processes. As a result, organisms with high AMPK activity tend to be more lean, with relatively low blood sugar and fat levels, and a very low risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.
AMPK, when activated, mimics many of the beneficial effects observed in calorie restriction, including loss of surplus body fat. Calorie restriction and vigorous exercise activate AMPK, shrinking body fat stores (especially in the belly region), lowering blood sugar and lipid levels, and producing other beneficial effects that retard the aging process.
AMPK: Master Energy Regulator
The AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) enzyme is a key component in the regulation of energy levels. Once activated, AMPK switches on pathways which generate ATP, while switching off ATP-consuming pathways. For this reason, AMPK has been the center of conversations about obesity and metabolic syndrome and is often the target of pharmacologic therapies. Many studies have confirmed that ATP levels are impaired in obese individuals, possibly due to a reduction in AMPK activity.
During youth, AMPK is activated at high levels. As we age, levels of activated AMPK sharply declines. Often the ‘symptoms’ of aging are not simply the result of passing time, but because our youthful levels of AMPK fade away. As AMPK decreases, energy levels decrease and fat storage increases – many will increase caloric intake in an attempt to sustain energy levels which leads to further fat storage. As one gains weight and becomes obese, AMPK activation decreases even further.
Research has shown that targeted activation of AMPK can have a variety of health benefits. Increased AMPK activation has been shown to help reduce fat storage (especially dangerous belly fat), increase insulin sensitivity (to lower blood glucose), reduce cholesterol/triglyceride production, and producing other beneficial effects. Because AMPK activity declines with age, increasing AMPK has also proved promising for preventing, and possibly even reversing, symptoms of aging – potentially increasing longevity.
The net effects of AMPK activation closely resemble those of calorie restriction and vigorous exercise. This is because both calorie restriction and vigorous exercise activate AMPK in response to energy needs that exceed supply.
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