We all know that exercise is good for us and there are guidelines out there to tell us how much we should be doing, yet 1.4 billion of us are still not doing enough to keep fit and ward off heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers. It’s been joked before that if you could put exercise into a pill form it’d be a strong medication for many different ailments – and scientists seem to be closer than ever before in working out how to do this.
Researchers from Michigan Medicine have been studying naturally occurring proteins, Sestrin, and have released a report this week covering their findings.
Sestrin-1 (or PA26) and Sestrin-2 (Hi95) are proteins that may function in the regulation of cell growth and survival, plus playing a role in responding to oxidative stress, with Sestrin-1 being predominantly expressed in skeletal and cardiac muscles. They’ve been shown to accumulate in the muscles after exercise and have been linked to insulin resistance and diabetes prevention.
The experiment put a number of flies and mice through three weeks of exercise training (yes, apparently you can train flies!), one group deficient in Sestrin, one group with an overexpression of the protein. It turned out that those who were Sestrin-deficient did not improve their metabolism or extend endurance during their training, whereas those with an excess had an already-higher level of endurance. Now, of course these trials were on flies and mice, not human subjects, but the proposal is that the Sestrin coordinated these biological activities by turning on or off different metabolic pathways. This effect would be similar (if not identical) in humans, and we could see the same benefits.
The idea is that for those who have reduced mobility due to age, injury, illness, or even life commitments that require long sedentary periods, Sestrin could bring the benefits of exercise without the effort. Pompeu Fabra University in Spain found that muscle-specific Sestrin can even prevent the loss of muscle in a limb that’s immobilised, for example in a cast.
This all might sound too good to be true – why should we even bother exercising when we’re looking at the possibility Thinking that a protein can replace exercise forgets that the benefits of exercise aren’t just physical – it improves our mental health, strengthens bonds with others when we train together, and gives us goals to work towards for a sense of achievement. Some of the benefits of training come from the impact of our bodies against the ground, or of our muscles and tendons pulling against bone, and there’s no proof increased Sestrin has any of the strength benefits you would get from lifting weights.
Besides, a Sestrin supplement seems to be a long way off yet – we don’t yet know how exactly exercise produces the protein in our bodies, and even if we did, Sestrins aren’t small molecules that could easily be made into supplements.
So what about you – would you take a pill that would mean you didn’t have to exercise anymore? How about as a sports supplement – is it fair for athletes to take something like this? Only time and research will tell if this all becomes possible, but for now at least, you’re better of sticking with your current training plan for the mental, physical and emotional benefits of exercise.
Welcome to That Squat Bot, established 2013! I'm Sarah, a fitness professional based in Manchester, UK.
I love feeling strong and lifting heavy, but I also love trying different types of movement and using my fitness to adventure outside of the gym. I'm also a massive Marvel nerd!Find out more about me here.
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