Does Lecithin Work with Omega-3 to Support Brain Health?

Dayna Dye

Looking for a simple brain boosting regimen? While there are dozens of nutrients that support brain health, omega-3 fatty acids and lecithin have withstood the test of time. Let’s explore the research behind these cognition promoters and how they make a powerful partnership.

Brain Boosting Nutrients1-21

  • Alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline (α-GPC)
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • Blueberries
  • Chlorogenic acid
  • Cocoa flavonoids
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Colostrinin
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Green oats
  • Green tea
  • Huperzine A
  • Lion’s mane
  • Lithium
  • Magnesium-L-threonate
  • Nicotinamide riboside
  • Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)
  • Resveratrol
  • Spearmint extract
  • Vinpocetine
  • Vitamin B complex

The list of compounds that help support brain function is impressive.1-21 And this list only provides some of the more well known among the hundreds that have been or are being investigated in regard to their benefit to cognition.

Lecithin Supplements

Lecithin has been a nutritional staple for decades. However, it’s come a long way from the baggie of sticky yellow granules sitting next to the brewer’s yeast on the shelf of your local health food store.

Lecithin is a mixture of lipids and phospholipids. Lecithin phospholipids form part of the body’s cell membranes. Phospholipids include phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidic acid and sphingomyelins.22 The first two compounds are best known for their effects on memory and mental function.23,24

Choline, which is contained in phosphatidylcholine, is a component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which facilitates the transmission of impulses between neurons, enabling the body's nerves to carry messages. By supplementing with lecithin and/or choline, one ensures that an adequate amount of choline is present for optimal acetylcholine production. Enhancement of acetylcholine production and its action is one means of improving cognitive function and, although it is not a cure, one method of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases involves acetylcholinesterase-inhibiting drugs that reduce the neurotransmitter's breakdown.

Lecithin is often used as an emulsifier to stabilize mixtures of oil in water and has been used in some omega-3 fatty acid preparations for this purpose.

Omega-3 Supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids have benefitted humanity for as long as fish have been a source of nourishment. Since the latter part of the 18th century, physicians have dispensed cod liver oil for various conditions.25 Before it was known that fish oil contained vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids, its health benefits were well known. Today, those who seek to benefit from fish oil’s properties prefer to get their omega-3 in the more palatable form of capsules that contain concentrated fish oil, providing significant amounts of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which, like lecithin, form a part of the cell membranes of all tissues.26

Combining Lecithin and Omega-3

There are similarities between some of the effects of lecithin and omega-3, namely brain function enhancement and supporting healthy lipid levels, which makes a combination of the two a natural choice.27-31

In light of an ability of choline to increase the availability of omega-3 fatty acids in the body, experiments were conducted in rats that compared the effects of diets that contained lecithin (providing a significant amount of phosphatidylcholine), DHA, lecithin plus DHA, or neither addition. Red blood cell and plasma levels of DHA and total omega-3 and -6, as well as plasma choline levels were measured after the animals had received the diets for two weeks. DHA in fish oil or vegetable algae alone increased EPA, DHA and total omega-3 fatty acid levels while lowering omega 6 fatty acid levels in red blood cells and plasma in comparison with levels measured in the control group. Combining DHA and lecithin further improved the changes associated with DHA and increased plasma free choline. “Dietary DHA-containing oils and crude lecithin have synergistic effects on increasing plasma and red blood cell omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels, including DHA and EPA,” authors Nick van Wijk and colleagues concluded. “By increasing the systemic availability of dietary DHA, dietary lecithin may increase the efficacy of DHA supplementation when their intake is combined.”32

In another rodent study, egg yolk phospholipids that contained lecithin esterified with omega-3 and -6 fatty acids lowered blood pressure, serum inflammatory factors, heart rate and a marker of oxidative stress, suggesting their use in humans might be warranted.33

A review of DHA and EPA’s structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids noted that omega-3 phospholipid supplements that combine DHA/EPA with phospholipids in the same molecule demonstrated significant promise in early trials. As examples, phosphatidylserine attached to DHA/EPA has alleviated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, krill omega-3 phospholipids that contain mostly phosphatidylcholine with DHA/EPA attached were associated with better results than conventional fish oil in trials that evaluated their use in premenstrual syndrome/dysmenorrhea and abnormal blood lipids and, in another trial, krill omega-3 phospholipids showed anti-inflammatory activity. “Utilizing DHA and EPA together with phospholipids and membrane antioxidants to achieve a triple cell membrane synergy may further diversify their currently wide range of clinical applications,” concluded author and dietary supplement expert Parris M. Kidd of the University of California, Berkeley.34

It is evident that the synergy between omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and phospholipids found in lecithin make them a promising combination for the use in diverse conditions. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids from some sources, such as krill oil, are naturally bound to phospholipids, which suggests good bioavailability. Supportive evidence was provided by a crossover study that involved participants who consumed low phospholipid krill oil, high phospholipid krill oil or a placebo for four weeks. Krill oil with higher phospholipid content was associated with greater red blood cell levels of EPA, DPA and total and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in comparison with the low phospholipid oil and placebo.35

Phospholipids have been added to nutritional supplements to enhance the absorption of ingredients other than omega-3. This and more indicates a growing awareness of the use of lecithin or its component phospholipids to enhance nutrient bioavailability.

The Bottom Line

Supplementing with lecithin and omega-3 fatty acids not only offers benefit to the brain, but research shows that these nutrients work synergistically when taken together to achieve superior results.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


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  2. Traina G. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2016 Jun 1;21:1314-29.
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  30. Wilson TA et al. Atherosclerosis. 1998 Sep;140(1):147-53.
  31. Thota RN et al. Food Funct. 2018 Jul 17;9(7):3576-3596.
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  34. Kidd PM. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Sep;12(3):207-27.
  35. Ramprasah VR et al. Lipids Health Dis. 2015; 14: 142.

Supplementing with Sage Extract Benefits Brain Health

Dayna Dye 

Sage Advice 

“Sage” describes an individual (usually older) who is revered for their wisdom and intelligence. It may be no coincidence that the herb sage is known to benefit the brain, the seat of these attributes. For some sage advice regarding Salvia officinalis and cognitive function, read on or listen to the Live Foreverish Podcast episode. 

Sage History 

Salvia officinalis L., also known as the ‘salvation plant,’ has been long used and well-documented in traditional medicine around the globe,” wrote Martina Jakovljević and colleagues in a recent review. “Its bioactive compounds, and especially its polyphenol profile, have been extensively researched and reviewed. However, sage's beneficial effects reach much further, and nowadays, with a range of new extraction techniques, we are discovering new components with new therapeutic effects, especially in the context of neurodegenerative diseases. ”1 

Old European medicinal herbalists document specific plants, including sage, as having memory-boosting effects. The validity of this traditional usage has been borne out by modern research that has discovered the herb’s cholinergic property, which is an ability to enhance or imitate the action of acetylcholine, a hormone that facilitates the transmission of nerve impulses.2 In a recent article, Nicola T. J. Tildesley and associates noted that “Members of the sage family, such as Salvia officinalis and Salvia lavandulaefolia, have a long history of use as memory-enhancing agents coupled with cholinergic properties that may potentially be relevant to the amelioration of the cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer's disease.”3 

What is Acetylcholine? 

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in learning, short term memory and attention.4

Neurotransmitters, simply put, are chemical substances that facilitate the transmission of impulses from one neuron to another or to muscle or glandular cells. The space in which this transmission takes place is known as a synapse. 

The nutrient choline, formerly categorized as a member of the vitamin B complex, is necessary for the formation of acetylcholine. Choline is found in foods such as egg yolk, fish, poultry, whole grains, and some beans, nuts, fruit and vegetables, as well as in nutritional supplements. Choline is also produced in modest amounts by the liver. 

Acetylcholine Deficiency 

One of many explanations of the development of Alzheimer’s disease is the cholinergic hypothesis, which posits dysfunction or loss of the brain’s cholinergic neurons (which contain acetylcholine and secrete it into the synapse) as a major contributor to the disease.5 

Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Of the five drugs currently approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, three are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and one is a combination of an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor with another drug. 

A review of investigations of the genus Salvia’s cognitive enhancing and protective effects noted that extracts of Salvia officinalis decreased acetylcholinesterase activity in vitro and in mice, in addition to demonstrating an antioxidant effect and an ability to support a healthy level of inflammation.6 

Clinical Benefits of Sage 

Clinical trials have revealed positive effects for sage in cognition and other areas of health. 

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial evaluated a proprietary standardized sage extract in participants over the age of 65. 7 Cognitive assessments were administered 1, 2.5, 4 and 6 hours following treatment. Treatments were rotated so that each participant received one of four different doses of the extract or the placebo during each of five study visits. Compared to the placebo, which was associated with a decline in performance, secondary memory performance (word recognition, picture recognition, immediate word recall and delayed word recall) was significantly enhanced at all time points following the administration of a 333 milligram daily dose, and was improved to a lesser extent in association with the other doses. Assessments of attention also revealed improvement in association with 333 milligrams of sage extract. Analysis of the extract in vitro confirmed its cholinesterase-inhibiting property. “The results of the current study demonstrate a significant acute improvement of cognition following the administration of sage, with particular benefits for secondary memory,” authors Andrew B. Scholey and colleagues reported. “This is a very favorable response profile as memory impairments are the core deficits of mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast, existing anti-dementia treatments have a primary effect on attention and only a secondary benefit on memory. Sage therefore has potential as an agent not only for general enhancement of cognition in older people, here using a well-controlled trial and extract with established cholinesterase inhibition, but also in Alzheimer’s disease either alone or as an adjunct to more conventional therapies.” 

In other research, the proprietary extract revealed an association with increased lifespan in roundworms.8 The effect may be related to this extract’s ability to increase the expression of lipid metabolism and insulin signaling genes.9 

In a trial that involved women with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease, an extract of Salvia officinalis given for 16 weeks resulted in better cognition and less agitation compared to a placebo.10 

A double-blind crossover study that included 30 young, healthy participants resulted in improved mood in the absence of a stressor and better task performance in association with the intake of 600 milligrams per day of dried sage leaf.11 

A systematic review of clinical trials that evaluated Salvia species’ effects on memory, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease concluded that sage enhanced cognitive performance in healthy subjects, as well as those with cognitive impairment or dementia and is safe to use.12 

Sage Polyphenols 

Sage contains polyphenols that include flavone glycosides, rosmarinic acids and rosmarinic acid derivatives, among other compounds.13 Increased polyphenol consumption has been associated with short-term benefits to brain function and long-term brain health.14 Rosmarinic acid in sage and other herbs has been found to inhibit the aggregation of amyloid beta, a protein that forms damaging clumps in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.15 It has also been demonstrated to reverse tau phosphorylation (which plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease) induced by stress and aging in mice.16 

The Bottom Line 

The wisdom of the past has found validation in these and other studies that reveal a memory benefit for sage. Sage’s long history of use in food and as medicine and the data revealed by recent studies make sage supplementation a safe and effective means of enhancing cognitive function among healthy people and potentially improving cognitive impairment in older adults. 

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department. 


1. Jakovljević M et al. Plants (Basel). 2019 Mar 6;8(3):55. 
2. Perry EK et al. J Altern Complement Med. Winter 1998;4(4):419-28. 
3. Tildesley NTJ et al. Physiol Behav. 2005 Jan 17;83(5):699-709. 
4. Klinkenberg I et al. Behav Brain Res. 2011 Aug 10;221(2):430-42. 
5. Hampel H et al. Brain. 2018 Jul 1;141(7):1917-1933. 
6. Lopresti AL. Drugs R D. 2017 Mar;17(1):53-64. 
7. Scholey AB et al. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2008 May;198(1):127-39. 
9. Confidential S. Sage Gene Expression Analysis. 2018. 
10. Akhondzadeh S et al. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2003 Feb;28(1):53-9. 
11. Kennedy DO et al. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2006 Apr;31(4):845-52. 
12. Miroddi M et al. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2014 Jun;20(6):485-95. 
13. Lu Y et al. Food Chem. 2001 Nov;75(2):197-202. 
14. Kennedy DO. Sports Med. 2019 Feb;49(Suppl 1):39-58. 
15. Habtemariam S. Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Feb 3;19(2):458. 16. Shan Y et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;49(3):829-44.

Exploring Nattokinase: Natto-Vitamin K Connection

Dayna Dye

What is Nattokinase?

Nattokinase is an enzyme that occurs in a Japanese fermented soy food known as natto
Nattokinase is an enzyme that occurs in a Japanese fermented soy food known as natto. In addition to nattokinase, natto is a significant source of MK-7, which (along with other menaquinones) is a form of vitamin K2. Another member of the fat-soluble vitamin K family is vitamin K1.1

Nattokinase is made by bacteria during the fermentation of natto.2 It is known for its ability to help break down fibrin, a protein that creates a mesh in the process of blood clot formation. Although the ability of blood to coagulate is essential to health, hypercoagulation, particularly in arteries that have become narrowed by atherosclerosis, is a significant cause of illness and death. Nattokinase not only directly inhibits hypercoagulation by breaking down fibrin, but helps reduce inflammation, which is associated with excessive coagulation, and protects against oxidative stress associated with increased inflammation.3

Nattokinase and Anticoagulants (Blood Thinners)

To keep blood flowing freely in individuals at risk of dangerous blood clots, blood-thinning drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), rivaroxaban and dabigatran are customarily prescribed. In an acute situation in which an artery-blocking blood clot has already formed, a fibrinolytic drug such as recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can be administered to facilitate the breakdown of fibrin. In a study involving rats, both nattokinase (intravenous) and tPA were effective in delaying the formation of blood clots induced in the carotid artery; however, nattokinase demonstrated a significantly better safety profile.4 In a safety evaluation in mice, the maximum daily tolerant dose of nattokinase was shown to be 1,000 times greater than the equivalent recommended daily dose in humans which, according to the text of the report, is 480 fibrin units/kg. No adverse genetic effects were noted. “These results indicate that there is no safety concern for nattokinase in the present preclinical safety studies, supporting the safety of nattokinase as an agent for cardiovascular disease prevention,” authors Hao Wu and colleagues concluded.5

The Role of Vitamin K in Blood Clotting

Vitamin K antagonist anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin work by preventing the recycling of vitamin K—a vitamin that is essential to the clotting process. Vitamin K is needed for the proper formation of a protein known as prothrombin, which is converted to thrombin during blood coagulation. Thrombin transforms fibrinogen into fibrin: the protein that is broken down by nattokinase. While vitamin K antagonists are effective at protecting against harmful blood clots, they can have significant side effects, including major bleeding events and an increased risk of birth defects in the offspring of pregnant women who use them.6,7 Another downside is that people who have been prescribed vitamin K antagonists are advised to monitor their consumption of dietary sources of vitamin K in order to keep their intake of the vitamin at a steady level throughout the course of therapy. This can necessitate avoidance of foods that contain high amounts of the vitamin if these foods are not consumed regularly.

Food Sources of Vitamin K

Vitamin K1:
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Soybeans
  • Carrot juice
  • Soy oil
Food Sources of Vitamin K1

Vitamin K2 (MK-4):
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Liver
  • Ham
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
Food Sources of Vitamin K2 (MK-4)

Vitamin K2 (MK-7):
  • Natto
Food Sources of Vitamin K2 (MK-7)

Nutritional supplements are also a good source of vitamin K1 and/or K2.

Does the Vitamin K in Natto Interfere with Its Anticoagulant Properties?

The foregoing paragraph concerning vitamin K’s role in coagulation inevitably leads to the question concerning whether the presence of vitamin K in natto defeats its use as a source of the anticoagulant enzyme nattokinase. In answer to the question, in the majority of healthy individuals, the clot formation cascade that involves vitamin K does not become activated until a need for coagulation presents itself, as in an injury. Furthermore, in addition to proteins involved in coagulation, some anticoagulation proteins are dependent upon vitamin K.8 This means that increasing one’s vitamin K intake does not cause abnormal clotting; long-term clinical trials have shown that even very high-dose vitamin K does not increase risk of adverse blood clotting events.9

Vitamin K is an essential nutrient and although bacteria residing in our digestive tracts make a small amount of vitamin K2, consuming a healthy amount of vitamin K ensures optimal levels. Vitamin K is needed for a process known as carboxylation by osteocalcin and matrix Gla proteins which are involved in the deposition of calcium into the bone and prevention of its accumulation in the vascular wall. In a review of vitamin K-dependent proteins, it was noted that vitamin K2--the predominant form of vitamin K outside of the liver and the form of the vitamin contained within natto--is the most available form of vitamin K to carboxylate matrix GLA.10

The National Academies of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board has not established an upper limit for vitamin K since it has a minimal potential for toxicity, and has stated that “No adverse effects associated with vitamin K consumption from food or supplements have been reported in humans or animals.”11

However, because of natto’s anticoagulant property and potentially high vitamin K levels, people who have been prescribed vitamin K antagonists need to check with their physicians before consuming natto.

In nattokinase supplements, the enzyme nattokinase has been isolated from natto. Therefore, the product may not contain vitamin K, however, it’s recommended that you check the label or ascertain from the manufacturer whether the product contains the vitamin if you are using vitamin K antagonist drugs. (Note: natto extract is not the same as nattokinase.)

Clinical Benefits Associated with Nattokinase

In a trial involving people with high cholesterol, nattokinase prolonged the time it takes blood to clot in comparison with a placebo.12 The enzyme’s mechanisms of action were demonstrated in another trial in which oral administration of nattokinase for two months resulted in the decline of three blood coagulation factors in healthy and unhealthy volunteers.13 In a double-blind trial involving 12 men, a single dose of nattokinase enhanced fibrin breakdown and decreased blood coagulation via several pathways during an eight hour period following its administration.14 Other clinical research found a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure among people with prehypertension or stage 2 hypertension who consumed nattokinase for eight weeks compared to a placebo.15

These human studies revealed significant benefits for the enzyme nattokinase in supporting healthy circulation. The bottom line is that, unless one has been prescribed anticoagulant drugs, natto’s anticoagulant and vitamin K content do not conflict with one another.

If you are being treated for coagulation or bleeding disorders, consult your health care provider before using nattokinase and vitamin K supplements.

About the Author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


  1. “Vitamin K” Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Updated 24 Feb 2020.
  2. Weng Y et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(3):523.
  3. Wu H et al. Redox Biol. 2020;32:101500.
  4. Guo H et al. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2019;28(5):1535-1542.
  5. Wu H et al. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2019;103:205-209.
  6. Schaefer C et al. Thromb Haemost. 2006 Jun;95(6):949-57.
  7. Lapostolle F et al. Eur J Emerg Med. 2018 Dec;25(6):378-386.
  8. Eden RE et al. “Vitamin K Deficiency. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan. Updated 2020 Feb 5.
  9. Brandenberg VM et al. Atherosclerosis. 2015 May;240(1):10-6.
  10. El Asmar MS et al. Oman Med J. 2014 May; 29(3): 172–177.
  11. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc.” Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.
  12. Yoo HJ et al. Food Funct. 2019 May 22;10(5):2888-2893.
  13. Hsia CH et al. Nutr Res. 2009;29(3):190-196.
  14. Kurosawa Y et al. Sci Rep. 2015;5:11601.
  15. Kim JY et al. Hypertens Res. 2008;31(8):1583-1588.

Does AMPK Help with Belly Fat?

Dayna Dye
AMPK serves as an energy-sensing switch that informs the cells when to store energy and generate energy-containing molecules such as fat, and when to break down existing energy stores
Does AMPK help with belly fat? The short answer: evidence indicates that it may help. For the long answer, read on. The dangers of excess belly fat and other adipose tissue could be reduced by increasing the activity of an enzyme known as AMPK.

What is AMPK?

AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme composed of three protein subunits that are produced by most cells in the body. It serves as an energy-sensing switch that informs the cells when to store energy and generate energy-containing molecules such as fat, and when to break down existing energy stores. AMPK signaling declines during aging.1

Chronic intake of too many calories can impair AMPK activity. AMPK activity declines under conditions of excessive caloric and carbohydrate intake. Conversely, caloric restriction increases AMPK activity.

How can we activate AMPK?

Calorie restriction, a life-extending practice that involves periodic fasting or consuming fewer calories, has been shown to activate AMPK.2 In turn, AMPK inhibits the activity of mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), an enzyme that represses autophagy (a process that eliminates damaged cells).3

While calorie restriction has the most widely studied and successful way to extend life in a variety of animal species, it requires long term commitment and a significant amount of self-discipline to work in humans.

However, specific nutrients have been identified that indirectly activate AMPK. Here’s a partial list:4-12

  • Gynostemma pentaphyllum (an herb)
  • Hesperidin
  • Rose hips, which contain the compound trans-tiliroside
  • Resveratrol
  • Quercetin
  • Genistein
  • Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
  • Capsaicin (from red chilies)
  • Curcumin
  • Ginsenosides from Panax ginseng
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
AMPK activating herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum
Additionally, the biguanide antidiabetic drug metformin, which is a synthetic derivative of the plant Galega officinalis, and thiazolidinediones, another class of insulin-sensitizing drugs, are indirect AMPK activators.13,14

Direct AMPK activators include lesser known compounds that are not as readily available, with the exception of salicylate, a compound derived from willow bark from which aspirin is derived.15

Does increased AMPK activity reduce abdominal fat?

Any agent or regimen that reduces body fat in general will also reduce fat around the abdominal area.

A study of morbidly obese people found lower AMPK activity in visceral fat that surrounds the abdominal organs compared to subcutaneous abdominal fat tissue that resides under the skin, and that inflammatory gene expression was higher in visceral fat tissue.16 An even greater association existed among insulin resistant subjects.

In a trial that involved 75 men and women with a high body mass index, supplementation with the AMPK activator hesperidin with or without caffeine for 12 weeks resulted in decreases in visceral fat area, subcutaneous fat area and their sum total abdominal fat area, while the placebo group experienced gains. Subcutaneous abdominal fat was reduced to a greater extent than visceral fat, which is more closely associated with metabolic disease. However, the authors noted that “Visceral adipose tissue has been proposed to mediate obesity-related unfavorable levels of insulin, glucose and lipids, but subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue has been shown to be an independent risk factor for the metabolic complications of obesity.”17

Animal research has confirmed that the administration of AMPK activators, including green tea, the diabetes drug liraglutide, dioscin from wild yam, and resveratrol decreased abdominal fat.18-21

Cushing’s syndrome occurs when people are exposed to high amounts of the hormone cortisol for prolonged periods and can be the result of excessive cortisol production by the adrenal glands or the use of corticosteroid drugs. Characteristics of Cushing’s syndrome include abdominal obesity accompanied by insulin resistance and abnormal lipid levels. A study involving Cushing syndrome patients who had adrenal gland surgery revealed 70% lower AMPK activity in visceral adipose tissue in comparison with a group of matched control patients with adrenal tumors that were not associated with excess cortisol release and another group of control patients. “Our recent data in human adipocytes show that metformin reverses the inhibitory effects of corticosteroids on AMPK, suggesting that metformin and glucocorticoids influence the AMPK signaling pathway in opposite ways and that metformin is able to override the effect of glucocorticoids on this enzyme,” writes Blerina Kola and colleagues of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. “This suggests that metformin or novel tissue-specific AMPK activators could be beneficial in the prevention or treatment of the deleterious metabolic consequences, especially the accumulation of the disadvantageous visceral adipose tissue, in patients with endogenous or iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome.”22

While these studies indicate that AMPK has specific effects on abdominal fat, a clinical trial that involved 80 obese subjects provided further evidence. Participants who received an extract of the AMPK activating herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum for 12 weeks lost an average of 20.9 square cm in total abdominal fat area in comparison with a loss of 2.87 square cm in the placebo group. Visceral abdominal fat loss was greater than subcutaneous fat loss.23

The Bottom Line

For those who have noticed an increase in stubborn abdominal fat over the years, the addition of an AMPK-activating compound to a healthy eating regimen may be worth a trial. These compounds have other positive health effects that will make their inclusion in a nutritional supplement program of value to the entire body for years to come.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


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Could Beta-Glucan Supplementation Fight Respiratory Viruses?

Dayna Dye

Preclinical and human research has found a benefit for beta-glucans against flu symptoms.It’s hard to avoid exposure to influenza and other respiratory viruses, which emphasizes the importance of a healthy immune system. A nutritious diet, consisting of a balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, plenty of plant foods and low amounts of added sugar can help. Beta-glucans have a variety of positive health effects when consumed, the most prominent being that of supporting immune function. Several foods contain beta-glucans; however, these foods aren’t always consumed on a regular basis. To help boost the immune system year-round, many people rely on beta-glucan supplements to help prevent the flu or to treat its symptoms.

What are Beta-Glucans?

Beta-glucans are carbohydrate molecules known as polysaccharides that exist in the cell wall of some foods. Beta-glucans from different sources vary in their molecular structure. Hence, the difference in their nomenclature, i.e., (1,3) (1,4) (1,6) glucans.

Research: Using Beta-Glucans to Treat Flu Symptoms

Preclinical and human research has found a benefit for beta-glucans against flu symptoms. In mice, oral administration of alpha and beta-glucans derived from maitake, shiitake, reishi, agaricus and chaga mushrooms for two weeks improved outcomes following H5N1 influenza infection. The researchers concluded that the better outcomes among mice that received the beta-glucan mixtures were due to enhanced cellular and humoral immune responses, which resulted in a lower viral load.1 Twelve days after being infected, all of the mice that did not receive glucans had died, yet 60% of treated mice were alive. Treated animals also showed less temperature elevation and weight loss compared with the control group of animals.

In another mouse study, a variety of algae (Euglena gracilis Z) or its component beta glucan were given to mice for two weeks after which the animals were infected with influenza. A control group of infected mice received no additional treatment. Both treated groups had higher survival rates and lower virus titers in the lungs. The authors suggest that the microalgae and the beta-glucan it contains “can eliminate the influenza virus via the activity of beta-1, 3-glucans on dendritic cells and induction of CD8+ T cells and/or natural killer cells.”2

In piglets infected with swine flu, beta-glucan derived from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae decreased pulmonary lesions and viral replication rate compared with infected animals that received a control substance.3 “These findings support the potential application of beta-glucan as prophylactic/treatment agent in influenza virus infection,” the authors of the report concluded.

Human Studies with Beta-Glucans and Respiratory Infections

The effects of stress on immune function are well known. In a study of women who experienced moderate psychological stress levels, daily supplementation with Saccharomyces cerevisiae-derived beta-glucan for 12 weeks was associated with fewer upper respiratory tract symptoms along with improved overall well-being and energy levels in comparison with a placebo.4 In men and women undergoing intense exercise stress, supplementation with beta-glucan derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae was associated with a 37% reduction in the number of days during which cold or flu symptoms were reported compared to a placebo.5

A randomized, double-blind trial compared the effects of 90 days of supplementation with beta-glucan (from Saccharomyces cerevisiae) with the effects of a placebo. Days spent with upper respiratory tract infections symptoms were fewer and ability to breathe easily was greater among those who received beta-glucan.6 Another trial that compared 16 weeks of 900 milligrams daily of beta-glucan (from Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to a placebo in men and women with frequent upper respiratory tract infections resulted in a decrease in severity of physical upper respiratory tract infection symptoms, and improvements in mood and blood pressure among those who received the supplement.7

Beta-Glucan Benefits

Beta-glucans have a number of diverse health effects including:8

  • immunostimulatory
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-microbial
  • anti-infective
  • anti-viral
  • anti-tumor
  • antioxidant
  • anti-coagulant
  • cholesterol-lowering
  • radioprotective
  • wound healing
Notice that the top six effects on the list all involve immune support, which may be beta-glucans’ best-known benefit.

In a 2007 review, European researchers noted that the healing and immunostimulatory properties of certain mushrooms have been known for thousands of years and that these mushrooms contain beta-glucans.9 Beta-glucans improve host immune defense by activating part of the innate immune system known as the complement system, and enhancing macrophage and natural killer cell function. They protect against the initiation of tumors by carcinogens and can also inhibit tumor growth and metastasis.

The immune-supportive benefits of beta-glucans derived from Saccharomyces cerevisiae was validated by a clinical trial conducted in Germany which found a 25% reduction in the risk of acquiring a common cold and better sleep during cold episodes among participants who received beta-glucan in comparison with a placebo. “This is in line with a recently published trial demonstrating the prophylactic effect of the same yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan preparation on the incidence and severity of common cold infections,” the authors of the report wrote. “Since the susceptibility to get a common cold is closely related to the body’s immune status, both studies independently suggest the potential of yeast (1,3)-(1,6)-beta-glucan to stimulate the host immune system in order to provide defense against common cold viral attacks.”10

Beta-Glucan Foods

Beta-glucans are found in:

  • whole grains (oats, barley, wheat)
  • mushrooms (oyster, reishi, maitake, shiitake and more)
  • yeast (baker’s, brewer’s)
  • seaweeds
  • algae
  • bacteria11
Beta-glucans in food whole grains

Beta-glucans in food mushrooms

Beta-glucans in food yeast

Beta-Glucan Side Effects

The use of beta-glucans supplements appears to be safe. Due to the beneficial effect of beta-glucans in lowering blood glucose among diabetics, it has been suggested that individuals being treated for diabetes or who have hypoglycemia be aware of this potential effect.12

It has been noted that specific glucan preparations have received Generally Recognized as Safe status and have been accepted as novel food ingredients by the European Food Safety Authority.13 An evaluation of the potential toxicity of varying doses of beta glucans in rats found no adverse effects on general condition and behavior, growth, feed and water consumption, red blood cell and clotting factors, clinical chemistry values, organ weights and other changes to any organ evaluated after 28 days. “Results of this study demonstrated that consumption of concentrated barley beta-glucan was not associated with any obvious signs of toxicity in Wistar rats even following consumption of large quantities,” the authors of the report concluded.14

Trials of beta-glucan in elderly participants and in infants resulted in no adverse effects.15,16

Beta-Glucan Dosage

Doses used in trials vary widely, from weekly milligram increments to daily amounts of several grams. As a reasonable daily health maintenance dose, 100 to 600 milligrams per day of beta-glucan may be all that’s needed. One’s health care provider may consider higher doses in the event of active flu or other upper respiratory infections.

About the author: Dayna Dye has been a member of the staff of Life Extension® since shortly after its inception. She has served as the department head of Life Extension® Wellness Specialists, is the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades in Life Extension® Update, Life Extension Magazine® and on, and has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension’s Education Department.


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