Longevity research has made great strides in the last decade, helping us understand how to age gracefully.
The newest science highlights an enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Living a long and healthy life requires maintaining an optimal level of AMPK, which commonly declines with age.1 The good news is that you can learn how to manage AMPK well into your wisdom years!
What is AMPK?
AMPK is an enzyme found in every cell of every mammal. It assists in making energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). AMPK senses the level of available ATP in every cell, then regulates the delivery and storage of that energy based on supply and demand. AMPK is called the “guardian of metabolism,” the “metabolic master switch,” or sometimes the “youth switch,” because without it, we cease to exist.1,2 AMPK provides the energy we need to eat, think, talk, move, and mate—all requirements for species survival.
But our levels of AMPK have to be just right—not too little and not too much. Too much can overstimulate and exhaust cells and too little will starve cells of their most fundamental fuel—ATP. When AMPK is low, ATP becomes depleted and a waste product called adenosine monophosphate (AMP) is produced instead. Rising levels of AMP activate AMPK to release energy by burning fat and sugar stores in the body, naturally regulating healthy weight and blood sugar.1-3 As you age and AMPK declines, it becomes more challenging to burn fat and sugar. The result is often weight gain, decreased energy, and accelerated aging.
Four Ways to Hack AMPK Naturally
Slower metabolism and a lack of energy, strength, and stamina, plus a tendency to gain weight, ache more, and sleep less were once thought to be natural signs of aging. But you could also say that these signs are linked to a slow and steady decline of AMPK.
Here are four natural ways you can hack your system and increase AMPK levels, even as you age.
1. Consider Calorie Restriction and Autophagy
Perhaps it’s contrary to logic, but overeating and delivering too much potential fuel to the body will significantly lower your levels of AMPK and accelerate aging. This is where intermittent fasting and seasonal eating can help.4,5 An increase in AMPK triggers autophagy—our natural cellular recycling and repair response. When food rations are low, the body becomes more resourceful in its delivery of cellular fuel via AMPK. The body goes into a no-waste, life-extending program.3-5
This doesn’t mean you should overeat or go on a starvation diet. According to Ayurveda, calorie restriction should happen seasonally and daily, based on adherence to the circadian clock.
In the spring, food is more scarce than in the fall, and the body naturally slips into a state of autophagy (if you are eating is connected to the seasons). Gut microbes shift from season to season too, supporting fat and fiber as fuel in the spring and carbohydrates as fuel in the summer and fall.6
From a daily perspective, Ayurveda suggests that breakfast and lunch are necessary and supper is optional or should be small or supplemental. Having a healthy breakfast and lunch followed by a light supper, or no supper has been found to support your optimal weight. In one study, two groups ate the same amount of calories a day, but one group consumed the majority of their calories between breakfast and lunch, while the other group ate most of their calories at lunch and supper. The earlier eaters lost significantly more weight.7
So if you are intermittent fasting and skipping breakfast, try kickstarting your metabolism by having breakfast and lunch while skipping supper.
2. Take Turmeric, an AMPK Activator
When ATP levels decline and levels of the waste product AMP rise, the body seeks to activate more AMPK in an attempt to deliver more cellular energy. One of the constituents of turmeric, curcumin, has been shown to activate AMPK and trigger the process of autophagy.8
One of the limiting factors for turmeric’s ability to activate AMPK and autophagy is its bio-availability. Since its inception, Ayurveda has classified turmeric as heavy and hard to digest and absorb. Traditionally, turmeric was mixed with spices to make curry, or, when given as a medicine, it was mixed with black pepper at a ratio of 16:1 turmeric to black pepper. This combination activates the turmeric and boosts its absorption by 2000%.9
3. Look Into Ashwagandha, an AMPK Activator
In one study, an artificial intelligence mainframe scanned more than 800 natural compounds to evaluate their ability to boost AMPK and slow aging. Ashwagandha was at the top of the list.10
The active constituent in ashwagandha, withaferin A, has been shown to increase AMPK levels and trigger the process of autophagy.11-13 This research confirms the long-held theory in Ayurveda that ashwagandha is an effective herb for health and longevity.
4. Try Plant-Based Flavonoids
A few naturally occurring plant flavonoids have been found to boost AMPK. While there are 1000s of flavonoids, only a few have been well-studied in this context. Those that make the list of AMPK boosters include the genistein in soy, passionflower, the quercetin in most vitamin C-rich citrus fruits, and hesperidin, also from citrus fruits. (14,15) Hesperidin has been shown to have a wide range of biological effects, including supporting weight loss, blood sugar, and lipid metabolism, particularly when taken after meals. (15) Hesperidin in combination with diosmin, from the pith of citrus peels, is linked to healthy microcirculation, venous and lymphatic circulation, and preventing hemorrhoids.16
And don’t forget to eat your veggies! The flavonoid anthocyanin, which is found in the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and fruits of higher, or more evolved plants has been shown to be a powerful AMPK activator.14
Remember the goal is to keep AMPK in balance, for optimal energy and healthy, long life. Experiment with some of these AMPK boosters and let us know how you feel.