Exercise pill? Researchers identify molecule in blood produced during workout

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Researchers at Baylor and Stanford Universities say they have reached an important step toward condensing some of the benefits of exercise into a simple pill.

The researchers, Baylor Professor of Pediatrics, Dr. Yong Xu, and Stanford assistant Professor of Pathology, Dr. Jonathan Long, say they have identified a molecule produced in the blood during exercise that has successfully reduced food intake and obesity in mice, according to the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Regular exercise has been proven to help weight loss, regulate appetite and improve the metabolic profile, especially for people who are overweight and obese,” Xu said. “If we can understand the mechanism by which exercise triggers these benefits, then we are closer to helping many people improve their health.”

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FILE - Anandi Cade lifts weights at Fitness SF on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, Dec. 29, 2021.

FILE – Anandi Cade lifts weights at Fitness SF on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, Dec. 29, 2021.
(Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

“We wanted to understand how exercise works at the molecular level to be able to capture some of its benefits,” added Long. “For example, older or frail people who cannot exercise enough, may one day benefit from taking a medication that can help slow down osteoporosis, heart disease or other conditions.”

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The pair of researchers identified an amino acid referred to as Lac-Phe. When they gave doses of the amino acid to mice that were fed a high fat diet, they observed a 50% decrease in food intake over the subsequent 12 hours, according to Baylor.

The researchers also found that humans, and even race horses, produce the same amino acid when undergoing strenuous physical activity.

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“Our next steps include finding more details about how Lac-Phe mediates its effects in the body, including the brain,” Xu told Baylor. “Our goal is to learn to modulate this exercise pathway for therapeutic interventions.”

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