New Drug Tricks Your Body Into Thinking It Exercised

The ultimate workout hack.

It’s every Chipotle binger’s dream come true: Scientists have developed a compound that mimics exercise. The new molecule, mysteriously named “compound 14,” tricks the body’s cells into thinking they’ve run out of fuel, causing them to start burning energy.

The scientists behind the discovery, publishing their findings in the journal Chemistry and Biology, have high hopes for their compound as a potential therapeutic agent for people with obesity or diabetes.

Cells don’t normally run out of fuel until they’ve used it up — that is, through strenuous activity like exercise. What compound 14 does is cut out the part where you have to actually expend energy. When cells treated with the molecule start thinking they need a boost, they increase their metabolism and begin taking up energy-rich glucose — the body’s distilled-down version of all the food we eat.

In the cell, compound 14 blocks the function of an an insulin signaling enzyme. When that enzyme doesn’t work, the cells start stockpiling a molecule called ZMP, and this artificially induced buildup tells the cell’s energy sensor, AMPK, that the cell’s running low on fuel and needs to power up. Then, just like that, your body starts burning up all of last week’s carnitas.

If the researchers manage to prove that this drug works in human cells — and has no scary long-term effects — it might not be long before it becomes a treatment for people with type 2 diabetes or obesity.

Dr. Felino Cagampang, who co-authored the paper with Dr. Ali Tavassoli, pointed out that the “new moleculle seems to reduce glucose levels and at the same time decrease body weight, but only if the subject is obese.” If the researchers succeed in getting this drug into pharmacies, one thing’s for sure: They’re not going to have any trouble finding a market for it.

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