New research could mean that a pill to provide some of the same health benefits as exercise could eventually move from fantasy to reality. One day we may thank scientists at Augusta University for playing a role in saving all that sweat. A team there has found that suppressing a particular protein can enhance muscle mass and help obese people reduce their risk of a number of health concerns.

Researchers bred both lean and obese mice that were unable to produce the protein myostatin, which is known to inhibit muscle growth. Both groups of mice bulked up as a result, but although the obese mice still remained obese, they had cardiovascular and metabolic health markers similar to the lean mice and much better than obese mice that produce myostatin.

"While much more research is needed, at this point myostatin appears to be a very promising pathway for protection against obesity-derived cardiometabolic dysfunction," explains Joshua T. Butcher, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Vascular Biology Center at Augusta University.

The same effect has been observed in transgenic trout with inhibited myostatin production that become more buff. We've also seen similar results through an approach that works on a cellular level to target factors that contribute to the risk of diabetes.

Butcher adds that inhibiting myostatin may not impact obesity significantly, but appears to prevent some of the negative health factors associated with it, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and kidney damage, which in turn increase risk of heart disease and diabetes.

However, studies suggest obese people may produce more myostatin, reducing the potential for building muscle and making it harder to exercise.

"Given that exercise is one of the most effective interventions for obesity, this creates a cycle by which a person becomes trapped in obesity," Butcher says.

If myostatin can be controlled, it could help some people get a leg up on obesity.

"Ultimately, the goal of our research would be to create a pill that mimics the effect of exercise and protects against obesity," Butcher adds. "A pill that inhibits myostatin could also have applications for muscle wasting diseases, such as cancer, muscle dystrophy and AIDS."

Butcher presented the work at the American Physiological Society's Experimental Biology 2017 meeting in Chicago this week.

Source: American Physiological Society