Exercise In A Pill: Too Good To Be True?

PillsWould you take a pill that promised improved endurance and no weight gain without an ounce of exercise?

Just in time for the Olympics, the Salk Institute in San Diego released the early results of a study that has been praised (presumably by couch potatoes worldwide) and denounced (by exercise fans and fanatics) in the same breath.

Researchers fed mice a daily dose of an experimental drug and after only 4 weeks the mice ran 44% longer than untreated controls.

The drug works by turning on a genetic switch that mimics the effects of exercise as far as muscular endurance is concerned. It tricks the cell into thinking that its energy stores are running low. This stimulates fat metabolism and remodels muscle fibers to produce more “Type 1” fibers. These carry a greater concentration of mitochondria (cellular powerhouses) compared to other types, accounting for improved endurance.

So what’s the fine print here?

When evaluating the implications of a study like this, the first observation to keep in mind is that these studies are still in the experimental phase. How these effects translate from an animal model to human clinical trials remain to be seen.

If the drug is successful in improving muscular endurance, it may prove to be a boon for those who are too frail to exercise or in those with muscle wasting. In the right circumstances, it may even jump start change for diabetics and obese individuals who would then be motivated to continue with real exercise.

What are the pitfalls?

Certainly, the most obvious is that we don’t know of any long term effects that the drug may have.

Beyond that, a lot will depend on how the drug is marketed, and if it is advertised as a replacement to exercise. Exercise is multi-faceted and has benefits that go beyond improving endurance – such as reducing inflammation, improving bone density, lowering blood pressure, and a positive effect on mood. It is also fun!

Diabetes and obesity are primarily lifestyle diseases and simply relying on a pill while ignoring crucial diet, sleep, and activity modifications may promote complacency and perpetuate the cycle that led to the conditions in the first place.

Lastly, the potential for abuse by elite athletes is tremendous. Here the concern is of the other extreme i.e. supremely fit individuals where every extra strand of Type 1 muscle fiber could make the difference between the Olympic podium or not. However, this is less likely given that the researchers are making drug detection tests available to the anti-doping agencies.

Comments Off

Scienta Health on August 14th 2008 in Scienta On Health

Comments are closed.

Check out new movies online website. Download and buy movies now.
Uses wordpress plugins developed by www.wpdevelop.com