By John Salak —
Maybe there’s an alternative to dropping unwanted pounds that doesn’t include crash diets or high-intensity exercise.
What if this alternative came in the form of a simple pill? Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford School of Medicine are now dangling that tantalizing possibility out in public.
Admittedly, the operative words involved are “tantalizing possibility.” But researchers from these and other participating schools claim they moved closer to making this possibility a reality thanks to their joint work. The studies have identified a molecule in mice produced during exercise that effectively reduce food intake and obesity.
“Regular exercise has been proven to help weight loss, regulate appetite and improve the metabolic profile, especially for people who are overweight and obese,” reported co-corresponding author Dr. Yong Xu, professor of pediatrics at Baylor. “If we can understand the mechanism by which exercise triggers these benefits, then we are closer to helping many people improve their health.”
The research team achieved this by analyzing blood plasma compounds of obese mice after intense exercise, which identified a significant increase in a molecule called Lac-Phe. The team then administered high doses of Lac-Phe to other obese mice, who consequently ate less, lost weight and improved glucose tolerance.
The discovery is tantalizing because mice aren’t the only ones to see their plasma Lac-Phe rise significantly after exercising. The same thing happens to racehorses and humans.
“This suggests that Lac-Phe is an ancient and conserved system that regulates feeding and is associated with physical activity in many animal species,” reported co-corresponding author Jonathan Long, MD, assistant professor at Stanford.
The discoveries could have significant therapeutic impacts, Long added.
“We wanted to understand how exercise works at the molecular level to capture some of its benefits,” he said. “For example, older or frail people who cannot exercise may one day benefit from taking a medication that can help slow down osteoporosis, heart disease or other conditions.”
Is a reputable body-thinning pill at hand? Probably not. But it may not be that far away either. “Our next steps include finding more details about how Lac-Phe mediates its effects in the body, including the brain,” Xu explained. “Our goal is to learn to modulate this exercise pathway for therapeutic interventions.”