PALM BEACH, FL – The global fitness and health club industry generates more than 80 billion U.S. dollars in revenue per year, so it’s pretty easy to see that Americans are generally preoccupied with how they look and feel. But what would all of those people sweating away in gyms nationwide – especially those honoring their 2020 New Year’s resolutions this month – do if they were told a pill may soon be available that can make all that effort obsolete?
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently announced that Sestrin – a protein that occurs naturally in human cells when they are exposed to stress – has been found to replicate the effects of exercise in experimental tests conducted on flies and mice. If continued tests yield similar results, Michigan scientists have noted that we could eventually see a pill synthesized and made available for human consumption that could supply the same benefits as a marathon session pumping iron at LA Fitness.
Needless to say, such a development – if it actually came to pass – faces numerous hurdles and tests before it potentially becomes a reality, but if it does, it stands to have a massive impact upon nearly every scientific and health-related industry worldwide. In addition to being used by the Average Jane or Joe to keep fit, it could also be used to treat maladies brought upon by old age, disease, or injury, such as loss of muscle mass/strength; for example, preventing atrophy in immobilized muscle groups, such as when a broken limb is put in a cast or natural muscle loss brought about by the aging process.
Previous research cited by scientists stated that human muscles show an elevated level of Sestrin post-workout, showing a direct connection between the protein and exercise. Taking that knowledge, scientists put common Drosophila flies (also known as small fruit flies) through a series of physical tests; namely, getting them to climb through test tubes. Two separate groups of flies were tested; one with the ability to generate Sestrin naturally, and one bred without the ability to do so. Researchers noted that the first group of flies – the one with the ability to generate Sestrin – showed improved endurance and strength as a result of the tests, in contrast to the flies without Sestrin; that group showed no physical improvement. Later, normal, unaltered flies who were given a large dose of Sestrin suddenly physically out-classed all other test subjects…even the ones that had been previously training and improving for weeks.
“Flies can usually run around four to six hours at this point and the normal flies’ abilities improved over that period,” said Jun Hee Lee, Ph.D., one of the Michigan researchers leading the project. “The flies without Sestrin did not improve with exercise.”
In addition, mice have also been utilized in the University of Michigan testing, in a similar manner to the flies. A group of mice – bred to lack the ability to generate Sestrin – were put through the paces and showed no improvement to their ability to increase their cardiovascular, muscle-building, or fat-burning abilities afterwards. In contrast, mice given Sestrin showed similar degrees of physical improvement compared to the control group that was observed with the trials conducted on Drosophila flies.
“We propose that Sestrin can coordinate these biological activities by turning on or off different metabolic pathways,” Lee said. “This kind of combined effect is important for producing exercise’s effects.”
However astounding the findings of the researchers of the University of Michigan may be, they were quick to point out that they are still some time away – likely many years, if at all – from achieving the kind of breakthrough in human trials that would result in commercially-available Sestrin supplements at your local GNC.
“Sestrins are not small molecules, but we are working to find small molecule modulators of Sestrin,” Lee said. “This is very critical for future study and could lead to a treatment for people who cannot exercise.”
Scientists are still attempting to ascertain exactly how human cells generate Sestrin in response to the stresses brought about by exercise – in addition to deciphering countless other complexities in the process – but if these hurdles can be overcome, medical science, and even the human race as a whole, may never be the same again.