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Breaking Research on AMPK & Diabetes Treatment

Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is found in every cell in your body.

It acts as a crucial source of cellular energy.

AMPK is known for its anti-aging benefits, as well as its ability to boost your metabolism and protect against obesity and diabetes.

Recent research is now suggesting it could potentially be the new activator for metformin, a medication used to treat high blood sugar levels.

How can AMPK help activate metformin?

Listen in as Dr. Mike shares the research on this new-found possibility, as well as what this means for those suffering from diabetes.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: May 26, 2015

Living longer and staying healthier. It's Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith, MD. Here's your host, Dr. Mike.

Dr. Mike: Are natural AMPK activators the new Metformin? Now, I guess we need to discuss some parts of this question before we answer it. You might be wondering what is AMPK? You might be wondering what is Metformin? Those are good questions.

Well, Metformin is a commonly prescribed diabetic drug. It's a prescription drug for Type 2 diabetes. It's a good drug. It does--it works well, brings down blood sugar, but it's a chemical drug. It definitely has some side effects to it and any time we can find things in nature that are more natural that can do the same thing, I think that's better. If I can find something in nature that does the same thing as Metformin but without the side effects; that's just a win-win.

Now Metformin, as a prescription drug, when you take it, it's mechanism of action--what we refer to in pharmacology, the pharmacological dynamics, just a fancy way of saying what it does-- it activates an enzyme in the body called AMPK, adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase. This is an enzyme inside the cell.

This is not a digestive enzyme, it's an enzyme inside the cell and it's a sensor or a switch that helps to turn on and off energy pathways. When AMPK is activated, you tend to switch on pathways that generate energy and turn off pathways that consume energy. So, we see things like fat and sugar levels. All those go down because we're not generating them, we're metabolizing them when you're activating AMPK and that's what Metformin does and that's why it's so successful. It's an AMPK activator. What we have discovered now, is a couple of plant extracts that do the same thing as Metformin and without side effects.

Now, I was explaining this to a friend of mine. I do review some of my segments with some friends here and there just to see what they think, or are they following me, that type of stuff. And she said, she asked me a really interesting question and I wasn't expecting it, but it's a great question and I think we need to discuss it.

Well, if Metformin is an AMPK activator and these two plant extracts, that I'm going to describe in a second, are also AMPK activators, so how come Metformin has side effects and these two plant extracts don't? That's a great question and this, I think the simple answer, or the straight forward answer is, well, Metformin is a chemical. It's unnatural.

Now, in some cases, many of our drugs are based on natural compounds found in plants, but then the pharmaceutical companies will change them just a little bit, maybe to get better absorption, greater effect, what have you and now it's an unnatural thing. Maybe the backbone, if you will, of the drug started with a plant but they changed it enough to where's it unnatural now.

Of course, now they can patent it, make money off of it, but once it's becomes changed and unnatural, it's just harder for the body to recognize it and metabolize it so you get more side effects with it. Natural things--plant extracts, antioxidants, essential oils, all that kind of stuff--your body just knows how to deal with those. The body knows which pathways to throw these natural compounds down so you can metabolize them better.

So, yes, natural things often have less or even no side effects. So, what are these, before I go into a couple of these plant extracts and I do think the research is there to support these as the new Metformin, I really do, I'm not saying to stop your Metformin and go to these plant extracts. I'm just going to present the data to you and maybe you go talk to your own doctor about it, but the data is pretty interesting and pretty powerful. Why does AMPK, which is the cellular enzyme, why does it decrease in activity as you get older?

Well, like everything, our bodies just don't function as well; we don't produce hormones as well; we don't produce these enzymes as well; we don't activate things as well. So, the aging process itself decreases AMPK activation. We also know that overeating does, too. In America, we are-- what's that phrase? Overfed, undernourished. Right?

We're eating lots of empty calories that will decrease AMPK activation which means you're not going to manage energy better and the cells become engorged with fat, for instance, and sugar. Chronic inflammation can also lower AMPK activation. There are natural ways to boost it without taking anything: rigorous exercise, calorie restriction, all of that stuff will help, but you're not going to reactivate the enzyme, AMPK, to the level that you need to say, bring down sugar levels for a diabetic. That's going to take either the drug Metformin or maybe even these plants extracts. Let's take a look at these two plant extracts that could be the new Metformins.

The first one is called gynostemma pentaphyllum and this was studied, as a matter of fact, this was studied several times, in cell culture studies, in clinical research with diabetics, with healthy people and I'm just going to go over one of the published research studies here. This had 24 Type 2 diabetics. Here's a study where they're actually using diabetics. Now, these 24 diabetics were not on any medications at this point.

Why? I don't know, but they weren't and they were given six grams of gynostemma pentaphyllum, which is a plant, and they were given it in a tea form. They compared this to green tea, which is known to help a little bit with diabetics--not tremendously, but a little bit. Green tea will improve insulin sensitivity a little bit, bring down sugar levels a little bit, so there is some benefit with green tea.

I thought this was interesting that they are taking this gynostemma pentaphyllum tea versus green tea in diabetics who aren't being treated. It was a twelve week study. That's a decent amount of time. The results of gynostemma pentaphyllum compared with green tea was this: there was a five-fold reduction in fasting glucose. The average drop in fasting glucose in the subjects drinking the gynostemma pentaphyllum was 54 points versus only 10 points for the green tea.

A fifty-four point drop. That's awesome. That's pretty close to what Metformin does, that's why I said is this the new a Metformin. There is a ten-fold reduction in hemoglobin A1C for the gynostemma pentaphyllum subjects. That's two percentage points versus only 0.2 percentage points of those taking green tea. So when you reduce hemoglobin A1C, that's your overall glycation burden coming down.

High levels of sugar will bind to proteins and that's called glycation, so we're bringing that down with gynostemma. And then, there was a near three-fold decrease in insulin resistance, which is the hallmark of Type 2 diabetes. This was published in Hormone and Metabolic Research, 2010. Gynostemma pentaphyllum activates AMPK and you're getting some tremendous blood sugar results from it.

The second extract is known as rose canina, also called dog rose. When dog rose blooms and flowers, it produces what is known as the rose hip, which I think more people are probably familiar with, but when you take some compounds from the stems and leaves of dog rose plants, the effects on blood sugar can be pretty tremendous.

Here, now, this was a mouse study, but we got to start somewhere and it was published in Journal of Pharmacology in 2011. They had some healthy mice and they had some diabetic mice and some of them were given the dog rose, some were given placebo. They looked at these mice for 15 days-- just 15 days--and the mice that were given, whether they were healthy or diabetic, if they were given dog rose extract, there was a significant reduction in blood glucose, a significant reduction in triglycerides, and a significant reduction in total cholesterol.

Why? Because you're managing sugar better by activating AMPK. So, gynostemma pentaphyllum and dog rose extract or rose canina, that's the plant. That combination activates AMPK and has some tremendous effects on blood sugar and very well could be the next Metformin.

Don't stop Metformin. Talk to your doctor about it, but there's some really good results here with natural plant extracts.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD.

I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.