Researchers have developed two drugs that mimic some of the effects of exercise in mice, leading to rampant speculation that people may soon be able to take a dose of “exercise in a pill.” The dramatic study showed that the drugs built fat-burning muscles in mice and increased their endurance on an exercise wheel. Four years ago researchers bred genetically engineered mice that could run much further than normal, but this is the first test to prove that drugs can have the same effect [Telegraph].
“It’s tricking the muscle into ‘believing’ it’s been exercised daily,” said the study’s lead researcher, Ronald Evans…. “It’s basically the couch potato experiment, and it proves you can have a pharmacologic equivalent to exercise” [Wired News]. One drug proved effective for mice that were already exercising regularly, increasing their running time by 68 percent and distance by 70 percent. The other drug worked on mice that hadn’t been trained to exercise; that compound increased their running time by 23 percent and distance by 44 percent.
Plenty of skeptics are advising people not to cancel their gym memberships yet. The drugs might not have the same effect on humans, says sports doctor Linn Goldberg, who also points out that while the drugs may bulk up some muscles, they may not mimic the other beneficial effects of exercise. “[Exercise] not only involves skeletal muscle fibers, but the main muscle we depend on, the heart,” Goldberg says. He adds that believing that you’ve exercised by taking a pill is “like being placed on third base and thinking you hit a triple.” The actual act of exercise can help improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, reduce mental stress and strengthen bones, Goldberg says [ABC News].
Researchers have presented the experimental drugs as a possible boon for people with health conditions that prevent them from exercising, but they will clearly attract broader interest. Evans said he has already been contacted by dozens of athletes and overweight people who have heard about his research from several lectures he has given on the subject [Los Angeles Times]. He has refused to give out samples, in accordance with obvious ethical rules, and is also developing tests capable of detecting the compounds in blood and urine to prevent athletes from using them as performance-enhancing drugs. Olympic officials are reportedly scrambling to get the tests in place, and say they may retroactively test blood samples from athletes who participate in the Beijing summer games, which begin next week.