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Sunday Musings: ‘Exercise’ In A Pill? May Be Getting Closer

It was an optimistic prediction in the roaring 1950s – along with flying cars and a cure for cancer – that we’d all be eating food in pill form by the millennium. We didn’t get boundless free energy or a 4-day work week, either. But researchers now say they’re closer than ever to packaging exercise in a pill…

The best way to naturally elevate your Lac-Phe levels? Get a dog and walk her twice a day!

I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe not even them. The whole concept of exercise is predicated on the principle that activity gets the old juices flowing, burns calories and encourages your system to gain and retain a healthy equilibrium. It also builds (and maintains) muscle mass, does your cardiovascular system a world of good, and helps control your appetite,just to mention a few more things. How do put all that into a pill?

Obviously, you can’t. But researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine say they’ve identified a molecule in the blood that is produced during exercise and can effectively reduce food intake and obesity in mice. They think giving it to overweight couch potatoes could help reduce their food intake and produce at least a few of the many benefits provided by exercise.

What they did

“We wanted to understand how exercise works at the molecular level to be able to capture some of its benefits,” said co-corresponding author Jonathan Long, MD, assistant professor of pathology at Stanford Medicine and an Institute Scholar of Stanford ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health). “For example, older or frail people who cannot exercise enough, may one day benefit from taking a medication that can help slow down osteoporosis, heart disease or other conditions.”

The team first looked at the blood of mice which had been subjected to intense treadmill running. Among the common molecules that were elevated in the mice after exercise was one called Lac-Phe, “synthesized from lactate (a byproduct 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).”

What they found

According to an abstract of the study report, “In mice with diet-induced obesity (fed a high-fat diet), a high dose of Lac-Phe suppressed food intake by about 50% compared to control mice over a period of 12 hours without affecting their movement or energy expenditure. When administered to the mice for 10 days, Lac-Phe reduced cumulative food intake and body weight (owing to loss of body fat) and improved glucose tolerance.”

Carrying on from there, the team found that the same effects of elevated Lac-Phe could be demonstrated in race horses, and people who has just finished exercising.

The takeaway

Data from a human exercise cohort showed that sprint exercise induced the most dramatic increase in plasma Lac-Phe, followed by resistance training and then endurance training. “This suggests that Lac-Phe is an ancient and conserved system that regulates feeding and is associated with physical activity in many animal species,” Long said.

They’re definitely going to do further research with humans to learn more about how the Lac-Phe system works. And they hope their labours will one day lead to commercially produced ‘exercise pill’.

My take

Stuff and nonsense. The Lac-Phe phenomenon certainly has the potential to help some overweight folks attack one aspect of their condition. But think of all the other benefits of exercise that can’t be packed in a pill. I say the most important aspects of exercise are the many interrelated benefits that come from actually participating in physical activities. That’s my own experience, and that of friends and family members talking.

The best, most satisfying way to naturally elevate your Lac-Phe levels? Get a dog and walk her twice a day!

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.