Confused About Protein, mTOR and AMPK? Consider This

  • by Nils Osmar. August 28, 2023
  • This post is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. 
  • See full Medical Disclaimer

AMPK stands for AMP-activated protein kinase. It becomes activated when cellular energy levels are low, which can happen when we’re fasting (or when food is scarce for some other reason). The activation of AMPK helps the body conserve energy and supports catabolic processes such as autophagy (during which the body senses that no fuel is coming in, so begins cleaning debris out of our cells, breaking it down into the amino acids needed to sustain life).

To use a practical example, we can activate AMPK by fasting, or eating a plant-based diet, or eating a diet that’s low in protein and/0r leucine, calories and sugary carbs,

mTOR stands for mechanistic target of rapamycin. It becomes activated when energy and nutrients are readily available, as when hunters are feasting at the end of a successful hunt. It’s associated with growth, protein synthesis, and anabolism – building and maintaining strong, large muscles. mTOR is activated by eating ample protein that’s rich in leucine, or eating lots of calories, or eating lots of high-glycemic carbs. Many people associate mTOR with eating meat, but you can turn mTOR on by eating a big fruit salad or a piece of steak. The leucine in steak does turn it on, but anything that stimulates insulin will also act as an “on” switch for activating mTOR.

One way to visualize them is as a teeter totter. As AMPK activation increases, mTOR activation tends to go down, and vise versa.

Both are important

  • mTOR supports growth, including muscle growth and a strong immune response. But studies on a wide range of animals suggest that if we have too much mTOR activation, we’ll most likely shorter lives.
  • AMPK supports longevity, but if we have too much AMPK activation, we’ll waste away and our immune systems will fall apart.

How I use this information

  • My current strategy is to activate AMPK most of the time, but when it’s time to activate mTOR, I’m not at all shy about it.
  • Most days, I aim to have AMPK activated for 16-20 hours. I activate it primarily by fasting, but also by keeping the house cool (see study), which lets my body know that “hard times” (winter weather) may be coming, and occasional cold showers. I also take catabolic, AMPK-activating supplements such as glucosamine, NMN, NR, fisetin, quercetin and SIRT6 Activator (DoNotAge’s fucoidan).
  • I focus on activating mTOR the rest of the time. In my “mTOR hours” — the 4-8 hours a day during which I’m not fasting — I eat a diet rich in protein and leucine, which sometimes also includes some fruit or berries to trigger the release of insulin.
  • I also take 10 mg of rapamycin (a drug which somewhat suppresses the activation of mTOR) every ten days.

Is this really the best approach?

  • The truth is that no one knows. We don’t even know with certainty that the activation of AMPK (whether it’s by fasting, or eating plants while minimizing animal=based foods), or some other means, will extend lifespan in human beings. I can say that the result for me has been robust health, and increase in muscle mass while tests like v3 tell me repeatedly that I’m about 30 years younger (on a cellular level) than my chronological age. If more and better data comes in, I may change my approach. For now I’m happy with it.
  • In the past, I have tried other approaches. One was to activate AMPK even more strongly by going on a completely plant-based (vegan) diet – while being careful to get all of the necessary nutrients from my diet, supplementing as needed. This “worked” for a while (probably because it was stimulating autophagy), but after a while my health started going downhill; I developed mood problems and memory problems, my teeth hurt, my eyesight sent downhill, and I lost my sex drive. I finally realized that I had too much catabolism, and not enough anabolism. The vegan approach may work for some people but it did not work for me.
  • After that, I was strictly carnivore for a few months. It also “worked” for a while, but after a few months I came around to feeling that an omnivorous diet which includes lots of meat, fish, eggs, poultry (the carnivore path), but also some berries, root vegetables, onions, garlic, mushrooms and other plant-and-fungus based foods, worked best for me for maintaining optimal health.

Not medical advice

This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. I’m not advising that people eat any particular diet or take any particular supplement(s), just reporting on what I’m doing. Supplements, like medications and other interventions, can have side effects; I would encourage people to research both possible benefits and side effects before starting on any supplementation regimen, and consult with a medical professional about any issues which might have a medical component.  See full Medical Disclaimer

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