Regardless of your age, being physically active or exercising regularly can help you lead a healthier and happier life. Studies have shown that those who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. You don't have to hit the gym to be healthy, just a few minutes of walk at the park daily could do wonders to your health. But if you hate working out or are too lazy to go for a morning walk, here's good news for you.
Scientists have taken a huge step towards bringing the benefits of exercise in a pill. A team of researchers, including those from Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford School of Medicine, has identified a molecule in the blood that is produced during exercise and can effectively reduce food intake and obesity in mice. They recently reported their findings in the journal Nature.
How exercise works at the molecular level
It has been proven that regular exercise helps in weight loss, regulates appetite and improves the metabolic profile, especially for people who are overweight and obese.
Dr. Yong Xu, professor of pediatrics, nutrition and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor, noted that if the mechanism by which exercise triggers these benefits is known, then it will help many people improve their health.
So, the research team started the study to understand how exercise works at the molecular level to be able to capture some of its benefits.
They conducted a comprehensive analyses of blood plasma compounds from mice following intense treadmill running, and found Lac-Phe, a modified amino acid, to be the most significantly induced molecule. According to the researchers, this molecule is synthesized from lactate (a by-product of strenuous exercise that is responsible for the burning sensation in muscles) and phenylalanine (an amino acid that is one of the building blocks of proteins).
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Further, they found that a high dose of Lac-Phe suppressed food intake by about 50 per cent in mice with diet-induced obesity over a period of 12 hours, compared to control mice. During this time, their movement or energy expenditure remained unaffected. When given for 10 days, Lac-Phe led to significant reduction in cumulative food intake and body weight with improved glucose tolerance.
Additionally, they also identified an enzyme, called CNDP2, that is involved in the production of Lac-Phe. They found that mice without this enzyme, did not lose as much weight on an exercise regime as a control group on the same exercise plan.
A pill that offers the benefits of exercise: Who needs it most?
In humans too, the team found robust elevations in plasma Lac-Phe levels following physical activity, especially after sprint exercise, resistance training and endurance training.
Next, the researchers will be working on finding more details about how Lac-Phe mediates its effects in the body, including the brain.
Xu noted that their next goal is "to learn to modulate this exercise pathway for therapeutic interventions."
Co-corresponding author Jonathan Long, assistant professor of pathology at Stanford Medicine, believes that a pill that offers the benefits of exercise may benefits older or frail people who cannot exercise enough, by helping slow down their risk of osteoporosis, heart disease or other conditions.