Boston scientists claim a naturally occurring hormone may help people stay fit without exercise.
The hormone, named irisin, for the Greek messenger goddess Iris, could one day play a role in defeating the twin epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, according to the LA Times.
Irisin, which is secreted by muscles during exercise, boosts the amount of energy the body burns, according to scientists from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School and published online in the journal Nature.
A Boston startup company, Ember Therapeutics, has already licensed the technology and is working to develop a drug that could mimic some of the benefits of exercise, according to the Boston Globe.
According to the paper:
For years, [lead researcher Bruce Spiegelman, a cell biologist] has been unraveling questions about the formation and nature of “brown fat,” a type of fat that burns energy rather than storing it. Spiegelman and colleagues discovered that the hormone, which they named irisin, triggers changes to ordinary “white” fat that makes them resemble brown fat and increase energy expenditure.
Irisin, like exercise, "has powerful effects on the browning of certain white adipose tissues," the researchers wrote in the Nature article.
According to the LA times:
Irisin levels rose by 65 percent in mice after three weeks of free-wheel running. In humans, the effect was a little less dramatic, but still good: After 10 weeks of "supervised endurance exercise training," irisin levels doubled.
More extensive animal testing of the hormone was underway, to determine how big a therapeutic effect can be attained.
But, the LA Times pointed out, "it's a long road from mice to man."
Is this the long-awaited "exercise drug" that will make sedentary chubsters lean and fit? Dream on, couch potatoes.
The study does, however, demonstrate that "regular, vigorous exercise yields significant improvements in metabolic function," potentially leading to weight loss, the Times wrote.