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Scientists Discover Potential Exercise Pill
One of the challenges to losing weight is maintaining a regular exercise routine. Whether it’s to go to the gym three times a week or take an afternoon jog after work, the majority of dieters are inclined to skip sessions in favor of staying at home to watch TV, and instead make resolutions to “make up for it next time.”
Soon you may be able to cancel your gym membership, stay on the couch, take a pill, and get a workout.
Developmental Biologist Create A Drug That Mimics Exercise
In August 2008, Cell published a study conducted by researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. The study shows a drug, which the researchers called AICAR, that is able to mimic the effects of a workout by increasing the body’s ability to burn fat.
Researchers also found that the drug can increase endurance; in an experiment, lab mice that took the drug ran more than 40 percent longer on a treadmill than the untreated mice.
Ronald Evans, a developmental bioligist at the institute and co-author of the said study, says that the drug tricks the muscle into “believing” it’s been exercised daily, and it proves that you can have a pharmacologic equivalent to exercise.
AICAR works by targeting a protein called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which is produced when cells need more energy – as they do when the body is exercising – and triggers increased levels of PPARdelta. Evans and colleagues showed that the PPARdelta could create so-called high-endurance “marathon mice.”
However, if you think that AICAR should be the sole fix to improving muscle function and cure obesity as well as type 2 diabetes, according to Laurie Goodyear, Ph. D., there are many factors to consider. In her article regarding clinical implications regarding basic research, Goodyear said that there are many factors to consider.
First, the AMPK is a complex protein. While the search continues for new compounds, aside from AICAR, that can activate AMPK, researchers must be careful as there are naturally occurring mutations in the gene encoding a sub-unit of the AMPK that result in activation of the protein and are associated with diseases such as ventricular preexcitation and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Second, Goodyear says that AICAR has a short half-life after it is administered through the pill and is accompanied by an increase in blood levels of lactic and uric acids, making it a poor candidate for long-term use.
Lastly, AMPK has also been implicated in the regulation of apoptosis, Goodyear explains, meaning its activation could have unwanted effects on cell proliferation. Goodyear also mentions that AMPK, when activated in the hypothalamus, can increase food consumption. Goodyear’s article was published by The New England Journal of Medicine in October 2008.
However, a dieting couch potato might just have his Christmas wish of being more motivated to exercise fulfilled early. A new research published in the FASEB Journal this month suggests that it might be possible to take a pill that would make you want to exercise harder.
Swiss Scientists Found a Compound that May Help you Work Out Harder
A team of Swiss researchers found that when a hormone in the brain, called erythropoietein or Epo, was elevated in mice, these mice were more motivated to exercise.
And because the form of Epo used in these experiments did not elevate red blood cell counts, it might also offer benefits for a wide range of health problems ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to obesity, including mental health disorders for which increased physical activity is known to improve symptoms.
While this might seem like a breakthrough in the science of weight loss, there have actually been two previous studies that explored a similar approach.
Irisin Hormone as Another Exercise Pill
Another study showing a hormone called Irisin that could mimic some of the effects of exercise without the person having to hit the treadmill was published in Nature last January of this year. This hormone is different from the Epo hormone of the Swiss scientists, and it is not a protein like that of Evans and colleagues’.
Bruce Spiegelman, a cell biologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and co-author of the study, and his colleagues found that exercise in both mice and humans starts a cascade of signaling changes, including the production of a never-before-described hormone called Irisin.
The group dubbed the new hormone the name as a nod to the Greek messenger goddess Iris for the hormone’s ability to send information to surrounding body tissue. The messages Irisin carries are not trivial, as they seem to effect positive changes in the body, such as helping turn white fat into the more beneficial and metabolically active brown fat, which burns more calories.
It also seems to make the body more sensitive to glucose, an important capability for keeping diabetes at bay.
Because the studies on Epo and Irisin are relatively new, further studies challenging these findings are yet to be published. Even if Irisin proves safe for humans to take as a supplement, it is highly unlikely to replace all the benefits of going to the gym. The Epo hormone, meanwhile, might have higher hopes of getting manufactured and approved, as it promotes a healthier lifestyle than the two previous compounds.
For now, however, it’s better to stick to regular exercising and healthy eating.