Health & Wellbeing

Exercise-in-a-pill increases endurance, fat burning

Exercise-in-a-pill increases e...
Researchers found that a chemical compound can provide some of the benefits of exercise without training
Researchers found that a chemical compound can provide some of the benefits of exercise without training
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Researchers found that a chemical compound can provide some of the benefits of exercise without training
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Researchers found that a chemical compound can provide some of the benefits of exercise without training
Researchers found that a chemical compound can provide some of the benefits of exercise to the muscles of mice without training - This image is a partial view of a mouse calf muscle stained for different types of muscle fibers: oxidative slow-twitch (blue), oxidative fast-twitch (green), glycolytic fast-twitch (red)
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Researchers found that a chemical compound can provide some of the benefits of exercise to the muscles of mice without training - This image is a partial view of a mouse calf muscle stained for different types of muscle fibers: oxidative slow-twitch (blue), oxidative fast-twitch (green), glycolytic fast-twitch (red)
The Salt Institute research team (from left): Wanda Waizenegger, Weiwei Fan, Ryan Lin, Ronald Evans, Ruth Yu and Mingxiao He
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The Salt Institute research team (from left): Wanda Waizenegger, Weiwei Fan, Ryan Lin, Ronald Evans, Ruth Yu and Mingxiao He

It's well known that the way to increase fitness and endurance is through training, but what if the same effects could be achieved with a drug, a kind of "workout pill?" Scientists at the Salk Institute found that when they fed sedentary mice a certain chemical compound, they could run seventy percent longer. If a similar treatment works in humans, it could open doors for fitness training for athletes, the elderly, obese or otherwise mobility-limited.

The researchers expanded upon earlier work around a specific genetic pathway that is triggered by running. They identified a chemical compound that activates the same gene, bestowing a resistance to weight gain and responsiveness to insulin that is seen in long-distance runners.

The team gave a group of sedentary mice a higher dose of the compound for a longer period of time than in previous experiments and found they could run 270 minutes before becoming exhausted, compared to just 160 minutes for a control group of sedentary mice that did not receive the drug.

"A hundred minutes is a huge increase in performance for sedentary mice that never actually trained; that's gigantic." says the Salk Institute's Ronald Evans. "It would take a lot of diligent training every single day to get that benefit and these mice are getting it just because we're feeding them a drug that is re-programming their metabolic properties."

We recently saw different research in which a pill was able to confer different benefits of exercise without the physical training, namely enhancing muscle mass.

"Exercise-in-a-pill" boosts endurance

The Salk team examined what was happening to cause the endurance boost in the mice given the drug and found genes that manage burning fat increased while those that help burn carbohydrates for energy were suppressed. The scientists believe that directing the body to burn fat as an energy source for the muscles may be the genes' way of preserving sugar for the brain.

"This study suggests that burning fat is less a driver of endurance than a compensatory mechanism to conserve glucose," says Salk senior scientist Michael Downes, a co–senior author of the paper. "(The gene activated by the drug) is suppressing all the points that are involved in sugar metabolism in the muscle so glucose can be redirected to the brain, thereby preserving brain function."

The Salt Institute research team (from left): Wanda Waizenegger, Weiwei Fan, Ryan Lin, Ronald Evans, Ruth Yu and Mingxiao He
The Salt Institute research team (from left): Wanda Waizenegger, Weiwei Fan, Ryan Lin, Ronald Evans, Ruth Yu and Mingxiao He

A pill that delivers some of the benefits of exercise without the physical effort could be prescribed one day to help people with obesity or type-2 diabetes burn fat, among other potential applications.

"If you're in a wheelchair; if you're a soldier who was injured; if you're in the hospital getting surgery, you're immobilized in all these cases," says Evans. "If you can bring a small molecule into the picture that can confer the benefits of fitness without training, you can really help a lot of people."

The study appears in the most recent issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.

Source: Salk Institute

3 comments
MerlinGuy
If this is Aicar, which the Salk Institue has been working on for close to 10 years, then why doesn't the article name it. It's no secret. Same this with GW-501516. Also odd that the article doesn't mention Aicar has some very nasty side effects such as decreased blood flow to the brain and heart value issues. Plus it's very expensive at $100 - $300 a day. It's also banned by WADA.
DWinter
Also to be noted is the carcinogenic properties of GW-501516. I find it a little disturbing that I didn't see that mentioned anywhere in the original research article. None the less, it is a good starting point to develop a library of analogs that may still have the metabolic activity without the cancer-causing activity. On the other hand, it's metabolic activity may be the tumor inducer.
FacelessMinion
There is a little more to "traditional" exercise regimes than merely endurance and weight management. E.g., metabolic changes, muscle architecture changes, bone architecture changes, changes in ligaments and tendons, improvement/development in muscular coordination, heat management, blood pressure responses, resting heart rate, etc. It would be interesting to compare mice (?) on the chemical to mice who were exercised in more traditional ways.