“Live long enough to live forever” says George Church, author of Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature. While it might seem farfetched, Church isn’t far off and he isn’t the only one.
Ray Kurzweil authored a book with the same tagline and George Church, a Harvard and MIT professor who helped code the first genome sequence .
Church is working on how to make it possible to live forever, but until that happens we can focus our anti-aging efforts on tools we know more about like the AMPK activator. This enzyme is responsible for many reactions that can combat signs of aging and increase cognition.
What is an AMPK Activator?
AMPK is an enzyme (adenosine monophosphate activated protein kinase), which is found in all living creatures including the yeast that ferments beer .
This protein is involved in dozens of reactions, but primarily helps regulate energy levels within our cells.
Because the AMPK enzyme helps regulate the energy expenditure and health of our cells, it aids in general well being as a whole. Similar to foundational nootropics (like CoQ10 or PQQ), which support mitochondrial function, an AMPK activator can have a similar role.
This is the main reason AMPK activators are used for improving longevity and reducing the signs of aging.
AMPK Activator Benefits
The benefits of AMPK activation are manifold, but novel uses for enhancing cognition and increase longevity are most interesting.
AMPK activation promotes a process known as “autophagy”, which helps to rid cells of metabolic waste (it’s like our cells “taking out the trash”) . Another long-term benefit is the creation of new mitochondria .
If you’ll remember from high school biology, this is the “powerhouse” of the cell where much of our energy is derived. There is evidence that the AMPK activator has a crucial role as an antioxidant , which can reduce oxidative stress.
With these two benefits alone, AMPK is useful, but there are studies focused on longevity and anti-aging by itself. In theory, activating AMPK has many pathways that increase longevity (including of the ones mentioned above) . One animal study showed AMPK activation alone could increase lifespan by 15% .
Between all the anti aging benefits of AMPK activators, it can be a useful tool… if it doesn’t kill you first.
AMPK Activator Side Effects
Because AMPK is a vital enzyme interacting with many aspects of the brain, it can have a host of benefits, but there are also AMPK activator side effects. For instance, AMPK activation can protect against cancer by reducing DNA damage from oxidative stress and inhibiting mTOR pathways . It also promotes glucose uptake by cells, which mean cancerous cells have the same advantage (and thus tumors grow more rapidly) .
There also seems to be mixed evidence on whether AMPK increases risk of Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. Some evidence suggests activation of AMPK is detrimental while other studies show the opposite . There seems to be more evidence in favor of AMPK in these neurodegenerative diseases versus against it, but it’s not well studied enough at the moment.
Activate AMPK with Nootropics
There are natural AMPK activator mechanisms, which we will mention below, but plenty of nootropics aid in this process. Here are some of the most common nootropics for AMPK.
- Resveratrol – a product of grapes, resveratrol can increase AMPK in aged animal models .
- Quercetin – this antioxidant found in apples and onions seems to be an AMPK activator in some regions and not in others .
- EGCG – these green tea catechins also activate AMPK .
- Curcumin – the main psychoactive ingredient in turmeric, curcumin (alongside piperine) is a helpful AMPK activator .
- Nicotine – don’t try this at home kids, but nicotine can have an anti-inflammatory effect specifically through AMPK activation .
- Reishi – the medicinal mushroom called reishi aids in AMPK activation .
- Astragalus – a common adaptogen 
- Ginseng 
- Creatine 
- CoQ10 
AMPK Activator Drugs
Beyond the standard natural nootropics and extracts mentioned above, there are a couple synthetic drugs used as AMPK activators.
Metformin is considered a treatment for type 2 diabetes, which works primarily through AMPK activity . The other alternative is aspirin, a common pain management tool that activates AMPK .
Choosing An AMPK Activator
There are several nootropics and drug AMPK activators, but they aren’t always necessary. There are plenty of natural mechanisms that can increase AMPK including:
- Exercise – many of the exercise benefits activate AMPK
- Calorie restriction – whether fasting or lower calories, this stimulates AMPK
- Cold exposure – take a cold plunge! Exposure to the cold is an AMPK activator
Whether you choose to incorporate more of these lifestyle habits into your life or opt for nootropic supplementation, AMPK influences aging and optimal cognitive performance. It is only one of the many factors involved with aging, but optimizing can have positive long-term effects.
- References (Click to Expand)
- Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. 2004.