The Exercise Pill. Researchers in America may have discovered a way to make a pill that could replace exercise and help people to lose weight without the need to break a sweat.
For anyone who has such a hectic lifestyle they are unable to find the time to exercise, a pill like that could seem like a godsend.
An exercise pill could be equally attractive to people who spend most of their day sitting behind a desk or the steering wheel of a truck or bus.
Then there are the people who are dangerously overweight but cannot exercise because they are too old or have heath problems that may make exercising dangerous. However, nice as it may sound, the exercise replacement pill may not be available anytime soon.
The only studies so far have been conducted on mice. There is no way of knowing if humans will respond in the same way, or what the side effects are likely to be.
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The researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, wanted to find out what physical endurance meant on the molecular level, see if it was feasible to replace training with a drug and develop an exercise pill. Previous studies, involving a drug called GW501516, had already proved effective for improving stamina and encouraging the body to burn fat faster, so the researchers decided to further explore its potential.
Tests involving obese mice, running on treadmills showed the drug successfully increased endurance by 70 percent.
The researchers also discovered the drug altered the activity of nearly 1000 genes. The ones that are necessary for breaking down and burning fat became more active, but others, including some that convert sugar into energy, showed inhibited activity.
According to a report published in the May edition of Cell Metabolism, mice that were not given the drug were only capable of running for 160 minutes. The ones that received it managed to sustain the activity for 270 minutes and were more insulin responsive and resistant to weight gain.
Closer inspection of the data revealed this was due to the fact that one of the genes altered by the drug stopped burning sugar as a primary source of energy and began burning fat instead.
Subsequent analysis of the mice’s muscle tissue revealed the ones that had been given the drug did not have additional mitochondria (energy provider). The researchers saw this as proof that the drug can provide the same benefits as exercise.
“It means you can improve endurance to the equivalent level as someone in training, without all of the physical effort,” first author Weiwei Fan said in a press release.
The researchers are now trying to find a pharmaceutical company with the resources necessary to develop clinical trials and test the drug on humans. If the tests are successful, and an exercise pill is created, it could be a useful ally in the war against obesity and may also have value as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.
However, some experts are worried the drug could be used for less reputable reasons. Ali Tavassoli, professor of chemical biology at Southampton University, said an exercise pill could potentially be abused by athletes and horse trainers.
Pharmacologist Louise MacKenzie (University of Hertfordshire) has also raised some concerns.
She has studied the drug in the past and says high doses can cause nasty side effects. “It goes from being remarkably healthy to being the complete opposite, there’s no in-between,” MacKenzie said but admitted it was a good starting point for scientists looking for better ways to help people to improve their health. “I can definitely see a future where the problems are solved,” she said. “You just need to have enough clever scientists working on them.”
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