Scientists have discovered compound 14, a molecule that can boost metabolism, lower blood sugar, and mimic more of the magical benefits of exercise
Exercise in a pill has long been a dream of scientists (and couch potatoes!), but we may actually be one step closer, thanks to the discovery of a new molecule. Known as compound 14, this molecule acts as an exercise mimic, offering some of the health benefits of a good sweat sesh, like weight loss and lower blood sugar, but without the red face, damp clothes, or, well, any actual effort. But can it really be possible to have no (beer) guts and all glory?
In a new study published in the journal Chemistry and Biology, scientists isolated a substance in mice that tricks cells into thinking they're starving when they're not, prompting the cells to speed up the body's metabolism. Compound 14 increases oxygen uptake in cells as well as glucose intake and fat metabolism—all of which lead to weight loss, fat loss, and better blood sugar control. (Although you won't score these 24 Inevitable Things That Happen When You Get in Shape.)
The results were impressive: Obese mice who got a single shot of compound 14 had their blood sugar return to normal almost immediately, while the chunky rodents who got the drug for seven days not only improved their glucose tolerance (your ability to metabolize carbohydrates) but also lost five percent of their body weight. (But only in overweight mice. Interestingly, the compound did not cause normal weight mice to lose weight.)
Ali Tavassoli, Ph.D., lead researcher and a professor of chemical biology at the University of Southampton in England, calls the results "really amazing," particularly when it comes to potential for developing treatments for type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and even some cancers.
The compound might extend to other areas of health as well. "A lot of heart disease is caused by excess fat, so I would hypothesize that increasing fat metabolism would translate to a reduction in heart disease," Tavassoli explains. "But that is just an educated guess. We need to do more experiments to find out how this would effect things like the heart and lungs." More experiments (including ones on human subjects) are in the works, but Tavassoli says he hopes to have the drug in clinics in the next few years.
In the meantime, don't toss your running shoes. "I hope that this is not seen as a replacement for exercise, but something that works in synergy," Tavassoli says, warning people who might see this as a get-out-of-the-gym-free card. "If your only reason for exercising is weight loss, then the compound alone may be sufficient—but this won't help you run faster, cycle further, or hit the tennis ball harder," he adds. Not to mention all the other amazing benefits of exercise you'd miss, like a happier mood, better memory, more creativity, and less stress (plus these 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise).
Besides, is a pill going to give you that crazy rush you get crossing a finish line, covered in mud and blisters, utterly exhausted and elated all at once? Yeah, we didn't think so.