In the quest to beat obesity, scientists have developed a pill that delivers the benefits of exercise without exercise. They say it contains a new hormone, “irisin,” that’s found in muscles during exercise, which helps trigger metabolism and burn more calories. While they say it could be a solution for obesity, diabetes, cancer, or other conditions that make them too weak to exercise, they also caution that it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for exercise. If you’re as confused as I am, I think we can all agree: The better plan is probably just to hit the gym to prevent ever needing this pill.
Irisin (named after the Greek messenger goddess Iris) increases in the body during exercise, boosting energy expenditure (i.e. calorie burn) and controlling blood glucose levels. It also supposedly helps produce “healthy” brown fat, which helps burn more calories than “bad” white fat.
Lead researcher Professor Bruce Spiegelman says that he hopes the pill will help combat illnesses that can be helped by exercise, including obesity:
There has been a feeling in the field that exercise ‘talks to’ various tissues in the body. But the question has been, how?
The worldwide, explosive increase in obesity and diabetes renders attractive the therapeutic potential of irisin in these and related disorders.
Another potentially important aspect of this work relates to other beneficial effects of exercise, especially in some diseases for which no effective treatments exist. The clinical data linking exercise with health benefits in many other diseases suggests that irisin could also have significant effects in these disorders.
But Spiegelman says this shouldn’t just be taken as a cure to inactive lifestyles or poor diets:
We’re not trying to replace diet and exercise. That is still important.
That’s probably because, while it helps burn more calories, create a better type of fat, and maintain blood glucose levels, it doesn’t actually build muscle. So no matter how much weight it helps you lose, it won’t help you build muscle or improve body functions, which is one of the most important benefits of exercise.
The hormone is currently only being tested in mice, and it’s only been tested in short-term studies. But Spiegelman hopes to speed the drug through to clinical testing as quickly as two years from now, since the irisin hormone is identical in mice and humans. However long it takes, we’re pretty sure your best bet is to exercise (for real) and eat a healthy diet (not take diet pills). What’s that saying about an ounce of prevention?…