A new drug has been developed which provides all the same benefits of exercising but without the exertion.
Scientists have identified a chemical, found naturally in muscle cells, that triggers some of the same health benefits as exercise.
The hormone irisin increases naturally as a result of repeated bouts of exercise
The chemical, known as irisin, turns on the genetic machinery that converts white fat tissue into beneficial brown fat. Brown fat is thought to burn off excess calories as heat. Irisin levels increase naturally in the body as a result of repeated bouts of prolonged exercise.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School injected modest amounts of the hormone into obese, pre-diabetic mice. Within just 10 days of treatment the mice had better control of blood sugar and insulin levels, and had lost a small amount of weight.
Publishing their results online in Nature, scientists emphasised that there were no side effects with the treatment, because the experimental dose matched that induced by normal exercise.
Researchers believe it could become the basis of a drug that might reach the clinical testing phase in as little as two years. It could lead to treatments for obesity, diabetes and cancer.
But Prof Bruce Spiegelman, who led the study, warned the discovery will not allow people to skip the gym and build muscles by taking irisin supplements, because the hormone does not appear to make muscles stronger.
“We’re not trying to replace diet and exercise. That is still important," he added.
According to the latest government figures, more than 60 per cent of adults in England and a third of 10 and 11 year-olds are overweight. Obesity and chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes cost Britain £20 billion a year.
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