Pills: An Alternative for Exercise?
There seems to be a pill for everything nowadays. We take them to heal ourselves, to reduce pain, and to maintain healthy bodies. What about exercise? Is there a pill for that? According to recent studies, scientists may have found a hormone that increases a human’s natural energy expenditure.
How is this possible? That’s what scientists are trying to figure out. A study has just been published in Nature Journal, showing that we may be closer to an exercise pill than ever before. The study has wide potential, great possibilities, and mysterious implications for exercise as we know it.
According to the Study
Essentially, we have two main kinds of fat in our bodies: white fat and brown fat. White fat is the icky kind. It just sits there and does nothing. Brown fat, on the other hand, is generally considered good, and helps us burn calories. Browning is a process that occurs within fat where the brown fat absorbs the white fat and turns it into a brown-like fat. This is healthy, as it helps people to burn more calories.
So how do we brown our white fat? Through exercise. When we exercise, our muscles utilize a molecule scientifically labeled PGC1-alpha (that’s what the cool kids call it). This molecule secretes a natural hormone called irisin, which has only recently been discovered.
In preliminary tests, doctors have tried to determine whether there is a link between irisin and energy expenditure. It is still early, but the results look promising. They have tested injecting extra irisin into mice with positive results. The evidence seems to point to a decrease in the likelihood of age related obesity and diabetes. Scientists are hoping to start testing on humans sometime in the near future, perhaps within the next few years.
So what does this mean?
Right now, it could mean anything. Ideally, it would mean a way for people to burn fat without need of exercise—especially people who cannot exercise themselves, such as those who have ALS.
On a larger (and slightly less realistic) scale, this hormone could mean a potential for weight loss. Studies have not shown this so far, but it is still early.
The Future of Exercise
I must stress that there is no proof that this hormone works or ever will work. But it got me thinking, what would happen if we discovered a hormone or invented a drug that did our exercise for us?
Large scale implications are rather scary. Dr. Bruce Spiegelman, the lead doctor for these experiments, made clear in an interview that this should in no way be viewed as a replacement for exercise. Exercise has more benefits for health than just burning fat, so it should still be done by everyone who is able.
However, I think a lot of people exercise in order to burn fat. If we were able to sit around all day and not gain any weight, I think a lot of us would do it. If we ever produced a pill some day that kept the bad fat off, I think we would see a dramatic decrease in regular exercise. On the other hand, a pill like this could be very beneficial in keeping us healthy later in life and especially useful for people who cannot exercise themselves. Time will tell what may become of irisin and the ways in which we’ll use it.