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Science creates pill to cheat exercise, may save my relationship

Exercise shortcuts have long been the domain of the infomercial, however we should turn our attention to the lab, because by jove they may have actually done it. 



To know the meaning of love is to wear the handles of such. This truism is furthered by the deranged speed and intensity of “normal life”. As such, realising a successful and consistent exercise regime seems beyond the bounds of anyone lacking a sober sense of discipline. And besides those who, unwittingly or not, simply don’t, there are some people who simply can’t exercise. I must admit that I fall into the first category; a house built on the solid foundations of bad excuses.

“Inspiration only comes when you’re halfway through” is the worn statement I’ve uttered, slung across the lounge trying to will myself into exercise. As I see it there are two disparate groups of people. Those who forever love it, and those who forever loathe it. Yes, I feel guilt in being the latter, but not enough to join the former. It’s not who I am.

So waistlines grow alongside the length of the relationship, until the sexual conquest turns arid, the volcanic lips turn into Atlantic salmon, and the balaclava-ed face of excuses breaks in through your bedroom window and makes itself comfortable.

So the question is: “if love is the drug, then surely there’s a drug to continue to ride that opiate of love?”

The answer: “sort of” – followed by a “maybe”.

According to the Salk Institute, they’ve developed a pill that boosts endurance by a whopping 70%, which averages to around three more trips to the fridge an hour, or 45 solid minutes of headboard denting fun. Woof. The study itself was formed around the central preoccupation of senior author Ronald Evans (Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and holder of Salk’s March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology). “It’s well known that people can improve their aerobic endurance through training,” he says. “The question for us was: how does endurance work? And if we really understand the science, can we replace training with a drug?”

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To aid, the proud and beaten slave set of the scientific world was called upon. Rodents. The team raced normal mice against their roided-up counterparts, who were dosed with the compound GW1516 (which doesn’t affect endurance unless coupled with exercise – a steroid). Mice in the control group could run about 160 minutes before exhaustion. Mice on the drug, however, could run about 270 minutes – about 70% longer. For both groups, exhaustion set in when blood sugar (glucose) dropped to around 70mg/dl, suggesting that low glucose levels (hypoglycemia) are responsible for fatigue.

At the molecular level, the team found 975 genes whose expression changed in response to the drug, either becoming suppressed or increased, primarily those which regulate the breaking down and burning of fat. Surprisingly, genes that were suppressed were related to breaking down carbohydrates for energy. This means that the compound prevents sugar from being an energy source in muscles during exercise, possibly to preserve sugar for the brain. Fat-burning takes longer than burning sugar, which is why the body generally uses glucose unless it has a reason not to – such as maintaining brain function during times of athletic crisis, evidenced by marathon runners whose limbs turn wobbly, and their vocabulary to mush.

“This study suggests that burning fat is less a driver of endurance than a compensatory mechanism to conserve glucose,” says Michael Downes, a Salk senior scientist and co-senior author of the paper. “The engineered gene is suppressing all the points that are involved in sugar metabolism in the muscle so glucose can be redirected to the brain, thereby preserving brain function.”

Apparently the GW1516 mice were also subject to a rise in bathroom self-photography post workout, and in turn saw a boost on their Instagram traffic.

Not really, but the next stop for GW is to extend the endurance of the fleshy, peeling stinky windsacks of the human form, starting with those suffering from obesity, then Type 2 diabetes, and hopefully dripping all the way down to my expanding bodice.

I’ll just wait here, then.




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