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The benefits of sports on physical health can no longer be proved, just as well as on mental and neurological health. They are now well documented and demonstrated regardless of age and gender. Sport helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases, but also makes you happier thanks to endorphins. However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms that mediate the metabolic benefits of physical activity remain unclear. Recently, researchers identified a molecule in the blood produced during exercise that can effectively reduce food intake and obesity in mice, similar to physical activity. These results improve understanding of the physiological processes underlying the interaction between exercise and hunger, while predicting, if confirmed for humans, the development of a pill that mimics these effects, but without exercise.
In recent years, research in the field of sports and health has grown exponentially. So, among other things, exercise is said to stimulate the brain – specifically the ability to perform tasks that require attention, organization, planning – and may reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in some people. In addition, biologists are beginning to understand the mechanisms that are activated at the cellular and molecular levels by regular physical activity.
Sport is an important and essential part of diet programs to control or lose weight, as well as pre- and post-operative recommendations for certain bariatric surgeries. However, less than half of French people aged 15 to 75 achieve a level of physical activity that is beneficial to health. Not to mention that more than a billion people in the world are obese – 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents and 39 million children. This number continues to increase. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2025, approximately 167 million people, adults and children, will be in poorer health as a result of obesity and related pathologies, such as diabetes.
In this regard, a team of researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford School of Medicine has identified a key molecule in the relationship between sport and hunger in mice. It is said to be involved in a reduction in food intake and weight loss, without associating any specific physical exertion. The work has been published in the magazine Nature†
A molecule that mediates sports-related benefits
Because regular exercise helps with weight loss, appetite regulation and an improved metabolic profile, especially for overweight and obese people, researchers set out to pinpoint the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms.
dr. Yong Xu, professor of pediatrics, nutrition, and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor, said in a statement: ” If we can understand the mechanism by which exercise produces these benefits, we’ll be one step closer to helping many people improve their health. †
To this end, they performed full analyzes of the compounds in the blood plasma of mice, after intense running on a treadmill. The molecule, produced significantly, was a modified amino acid called Lac-Phe. It is synthesized from lactate – a normal byproduct of glucose metabolism during exercise, which is responsible for the burning sensation in the muscles – and phenylalanine – an amino acid that makes proteins.
As a result, the researchers induced obesity in mice through a high-fat diet and then tested the effect of Lac-Phe mediated by precise dose injections. They found that a high dose of Lac-Phe suppressed food intake by about 50% compared to control mice, over a 12-hour period, without affecting their exercise or energy expenditure. When Lac-Phe was given to mice for 10 days, cumulative food intake and body weight – due to loss of body fat – decreased and glucose tolerance improved.
The authors also identified an enzyme called CNDP2, which is involved in the production of Lac-Phe. They showed that mice lacking this enzyme did not lose as much weight with a regular exercise regimen as a control group with the same exercise regimen.
Towards a miracle pill against obesity and the consequences of aging
Co-author Jonathan Long, assistant professor of pathology at Stanford Medicine and Stanford Institute ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health) investigator, explains: We wanted to understand how exercise works on a molecular level so that we can reap some of its benefits. For example, elderly or frail people who can’t get enough exercise may one day benefit from taking a drug that can slow osteoporosis, heart disease, or other conditions. †
Besides, scientists have also found large increases in plasma levels of Lac-Phe after physical activity in racehorses and humans. A dataset for exercise in humans showed that sprint training caused the greatest increase in plasma Lac-Phe, followed by resistance training and then endurance training.
Accordingly, these data define a molecule induced by exercise controlling food intake and influencing the energy balance associated with physical activity in many animal species. dr. Yong Xu concludes: “ Our next steps are to understand in more detail how Lac-Phe mediates its effects in the body, including the brain. Our goal is to learn how to modulate this practice path for therapeutic interventions †
The arrival of a miracle pill, which reproduces the effects of sport on our bodies, in particular by reducing hunger and allowing weight loss, is in sight and has been the subject of numerous studies around the world. But pending its real development, then its marketing, effective sport remains the best ally against obesity and related diseases.