AMPK is an energy sensor, that when activated in the right tissues has many beneficial effects on our bodies. It stimulates weight loss, improves insulin sensitivity, decreases inflammation, and improves muscle performance. AMPK is also involved in several longevity pathways and promotes healthy aging. Check out how you can improve your AMPK activity.
What is AMPK?
Get Amped: The Energy Enzyme
AMPK (5′ AMP-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme that plays a key role in energy balance. All creatures from yeast to humans have this enzyme .
AMPK can detect the level of energy (number of ATP molecules) in a cell and helps regulate responses when it gets too low or high.
AMPK is produced in a number of tissues, including the liver, brain, fat cells and muscle .
While much of AMPK activity is dependent on external factors such as diet and exercise we all have a genetic disposition inherited from our parents.
AMPK Activation Benefits
1) Increases Metabolism
AMPK in the hypothalamus senses our level of energy production in the body (energy in the form of ATP). It increases energy expenditure and can also increase appetite (when increased in the hypothalamus) .
When cellular energy is low, AMPK is activated and targets a range of processes, the net response of which is an increase in energy production and a coordinated decrease in energy (ATP) usage .
Hypothalamic AMPK increases appetite, increases glucose production and uptake, reduces heat production, and decreases energy output .
2) Produces and Burns Sugars
Glucose is the main source of energy for the body and is particularly essential for normal brain activity. Hypoglycemia, a condition in which the blood glucose drops below normal levels, poses a great danger to the stability and functioning of the brain and therefore activates AMPK .
AMPK inhibits glucose storage (glycogen synthesis), resulting in more glucose .
In various cells, AMPK stimulates the breakdown of glucose for energy (in the form of ATP) .
3) Burns Fat
4) Inhibits Protein Production
Protein production is a high-energy process that is inhibited during low energy states to conserve energy. Therefore, it is not surprising that AMPK inhibits protein production .
Inhibiting excessive protein production results in a much more energy efficient and wasteful cell.
5) Promotes Cellular Renewal (Autophagy)
Autophagy is the process of recycling cellular components. This process promotes molecular and cell subunit quality control by degrading damaged or misfolded proteins and even damaged mitochondria .
Autophagy can contribute to energy generation by providing fuel for mitochondrial metabolism, and AMPK promotes this process .
6) Produces New Mitochondria
AMPK is capable of both acute and long-term improvement of mitochondrial activity .
AMPK also controls the production and turnover of mitochondria. Loss of AMPK in mice reduces mitochondrial activity and greatly diminishes muscle performance .
7) Acts as an Antioxidant
8) Helps With Oxygen Delivery
Upon hypoxia (low oxygen) at altitude or during sleep, activation of AMPK can protect against acute breathing instability. Loss of AMPK was shown to cause breathing dysfunction during hypoxia in mice .
9) Important for Fertility
AMPK helps with fertility in both sexes in several animal species, by increasing the production of sex hormones .
The absence of AMPK leads to reduced fertility in both sexes .
10) Increases Blood Flow
AMPK plays a critical role in increasing blood flow through vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels), by stimulating nitric oxide release in blood vessels .
11) Provides the Benefits of Exercise
The benefits of exercise can be obtained, in part, by activating AMPK. Mice who took AICAR, an AMPK activator, for 4 weeks had the similar benefits as endurance training in “sedentary” mice (in terms of both muscle mitochondrial profiles and actual treadmill endurance) .
12) Increases Weightloss
For weight loss, ideally, we would want to activate AMPK in our liver, fat, and muscle and inhibit AMPK in the hypothalamus. This way, we will burn fat and energy stores and decrease hunger at the same time.
In mice, when the activity of brain/hypothalamic AMPK was inhibited, the mice ate less and lost weight. When AMPK activity was raised the mice ate more and gained weight .
While AMPK could have many beneficial effects on obesity, it is typically reduced in this disorder.
13) Increases Lifespan and is Antiaging
Many studies have shown that AMPK plays a crucial role in increasing longevity and calorie restriction-induced lifespan extension in worms, fruit flies, and rodents .
Longevity Pathways of AMPK
- AMPK activates longevity FOXO proteins 
- AMPK activates the master antioxidant regulator NRF2 
- AMPK inhibits the ‘master regulator’ of lipogenesis SREBPc 
- AMPK inhibits mTOR indirectly 
14) Helps Decrease Inflammation
AMPK can both decrease inflammation and be decreased by inflammation.
While AMPK could have many beneficial effects in chronic inflammation, it is typically reduced in such states.
15) Improves Diabetes
AMPK deficient mice showed impaired glucose tolerance .
Metformin, an activator of AMPK, is the most frequently prescribed antidiabetic drug for type-2 diabetic patients .
16) Benefits the Heart
The activation of AMPK also performs a protective role in cardiovascular diseases .
17) Increases Testosterone
AMPK can increase male hormones/androgens in human cells . However, metformin (AMPK activator) is commonly given to women with PCOS to a good effect (PCOS is a condition with higher male hormones).
AMPK has both protective and contributing properties when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases, and studies often come to opposing conclusions regarding this enzyme and its role.
In mice with Alzheimer’s, activation of AMPK by metformin was shown to increase amyloid-beta protein (Aβ) levels and therefore contribute to the disease .
Indeed, the inactivation of AMPK was linked to increased Alzheimer’s risk in obese patients with type 2 diabetes .
In mice with Huntington’s disease, AMPK activation promoted neuronal loss and brain decay . But then again, another study showed that treatment with metformin significantly prolonged survival time in rodents with this disease .
Genetic activation of AMPK was also shown to protect against neuronal loss in Parkinson’s disease models in flies .
The role of AMPK in cancer is complicated .
On the other hand, AMPK promotes glucose/energy uptake by cells, which can also be used by tumors once they have formed .
Given the above, it is suggested that AMPK activation is beneficial for cancer prevention but not for cancer treatment. Rather, AMPK inhibition could be useful for treating established cancers by inhibiting tumor stress adaptation and survival .
AMPK activation by its activators (AICAR and metformin) increased UVB-induced DNA repair in normal human skin cells. Topical treatment with AICAR and metformin not only delayed the onset of UVB-induced skin tumor formation but also reduced the number of tumors in mice .
Potential Negatives of AMPK
Activating AMPK (outside of the brain)
Best AMPK Activators
We want to increase AMPK in our muscle, fat, and liver cells and decrease it in our hypothalamus (if you have weight issues).
AMPK is stimulated by muscle contraction. High-intensity exercise significantly increases the activity of AMPK in healthy humans .
Through its effect on increasing the production of new mitochondria, AMPK can improve muscle performance.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned the AMPK activator AICAR because of its performance-enhancing effects .
2) Calorie Restriction
It is known that calorie restriction exerts many beneficial effects on aging, diabetes, and cancer. Some of these effects are mediated by AMPK. It was shown that calorie restriction activates AMPK through multiple mechanisms .
Overeating inhibits AMPK and AMPK activity is decreased in obese individuals .
Interestingly, adiponectin secretion is significantly reduced in obese individuals, which partially explains reduced AMPK activity in these individuals .
3) Decrease Inflammation
AMPK can both decrease inflammation and be decreased by inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory cytokines activate AMPK, while pro-inflammatory cytokines suppress it .
AMPK suppression in chronic inflammation contributes to insulin resistance. Reduced AMPK activity was associated with increased inflammation in the organ fat tissue and insulin resistance in morbidly obese individuals .
4) Cold Exposure
5) Lipoic acid
Numerous polyphenols are capable of activating AMPK, and they exert beneficial effects on type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. These include:
- Resveratrol from red grapes [20, 13]
- Quercetin from many plants including fruits, vegetables, and grains [20, 13]. Note that quercetin increases AMPK in fat, liver, and muscle but inhibits hypothalamic AMPK .
- Genistein found in a number of plants such as soybeans .
- EGCG from green tea [20, 13]
- Berberine from Berberis vulgaris, Berberis asitata and Coptis chinensis [20, 13].
- Curcumin from turmeric [20, 13]
- compounds isolated from Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odaratum) .
- Anthocyanins found in blueberries, bilberries, grape seed extract and pine bark extract .
- Apigenin 
- Zinc 
- Nicotine (in fat cells) [25, 26] and mediates the anti-inflammatory effect of nicotine .
- Palmitoylethanolamide (activates AMPK in fat tissue, but inhibits it in the hypothalamus) 
- Bitter Melon (Cucurbitane) 
- Carnitine 
- Glucosamine [30, 31]
- Extra virgin olive Oil 
- Fish Oil – EPA , DHA 
- Cinnamon 
- Astragalus [36, 37]
- Reishi 
- Ginseng/Ginsenosides. A number of ginsenosides have been reported to activate AMPK, resulting in an increased glucose uptake, decreased liver triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and the inhibition of fat production and liver glucose production .
- Apple Cider Vinegar /Acetic acid , Pomegranate vinegar 
- Rooibos 
- Creatine 
- CoQ10 
- Gynostemma 
- Hydroxytyrosol 
- Baicalin [46, 47]
- Vitamin E/gamma tocotrienols  + Turkey tail/PSP 
- Fucoidan 
- Danshen/Salvia Miltiorrhiza/TanshioneIIA 
- Red yeast rice (monascin and ankaflavin) 
- Arctigenin from the seeds of burdock (Arctium lappa) .
- Panduratin from Chinese ginger (Boesenbergia pandurate) .
In fasting, adiponectin increases and stimulates AMPK, leading to induction of food intake and reduction of energy expenditure. After refeeding, a decrease in adiponectin level is accompanied by blunted AMPK activity .
Leptin, the satiety and anti-obesity hormone secreted by fat cells in the presence of insulin, prevents overeating by inhibiting AMPK in the hypothalamus to suppress appetite  but activates AMPK in muscle .
3) Thyroid hormone T3
4) Nitric Oxide
5) ROS-producing agents
Any modulators capable of inducing intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation can activate AMPK. Such a modulator is cryptotanshinone from red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza), which exerts antidiabetic and anticancer effects through ROS-dependent AMPK activation. DNA-damaging agents, such as cisplatin or metals, including arsenite, vanadate, and cobalt, also activate AMPK through ROS generation .
Metformin is a blood-sugar-lowering agent. It is widely used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes .
AMPK mediates many of the antidiabetic actions of metformin: stimulation of fat burning and glucose uptake, and decreased fat production and liver glucose production .
Salicylate is a direct activator of AMPK .
Aspirin reduces circulating free fatty acids and TG levels in obese patients with type-2 diabetes and increases fat breakdown during fasting in healthy humans, which can be explained by the direct effect of aspirin on AMPK activation .
Thiazolidinediones rapidly activate AMPK in a variety of tissues including muscle, liver, and fat tissue .
AMPK has been implicated in the TZDs induced body weight gain. TZDs are prescribed for blood sugar control but induce body weight gain as a side effect. Pioglitazone treatment was reported to increase food intake and decrease energy expenditure by enhancing adiponectin and increasing the AMPK activity in the hypothalamus .
Activation of AMPK in the Brain May Cause Weight Gain
Activating AMPK in the brain (hypothalamus) has the opposite effect as it does when activating it in the liver, fat, and muscles. Activating AMPK in the brain increases appetite and may increase weight gain. When it’s activated in non-brain tissue, it causes fat loss.
Inhibiting AMPK in the brain likewise reduces appetite and may cause weight loss.
Activators in the Brain
Ghrelin is a hunger hormone produced in the stomach and released during fasting. Ghrelin is essential for survival during severe calorie restriction or fasting when it maintains blood glucose levels .
Inhibitors in the Brain
- Leptin 
- Insulin 
- GLP-1 
- Estradiol 
- Thyroid Hormones/T3 [56, 57] – Some studies say it activates hypothalamic AMPK 
- Lipoic acid [20, 13]… it increases AMPK in muscles, fat and liver cells [59, 60, 61]
- Quercetin … it increases AMPK in fat, liver, and muscle [62, 63, 64]
- Nicotine  – Smokers around the world commonly report increased body weight after smoking cessation. Nicotine-induced weight loss is associated with inactivation of hypothalamic AMPK .
- Ketones