Could exercise be replaced with a protein supplement?

Medicine researchers at the University of MI studying a class of naturally occurring protein called Sestrin have found that it can mimic many effects of exercise in flies and mice.

Previous research has indicated that Sestrin tends to build up in muscles after a workout, although the role of this protein had never been fully understood.

Numerous physical benefits that come with regular exercise may be mediated by a single protein group called Sestrin, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications. Next, they encouraged their samples, a bunch of Drosophila flies to work out by developing a small treadmill for them. Scientists from the University of MI therefore wanted to see if artificially upping an animal's Sestrin levels could produce the beneficial effects that are associated with the protein. Compared to normal mice, these mutants were unable to burn fat, increase their aerobic capacity, or improve their respiration following a period of regular exercise on a running wheel. Taking advantage of the flies' instinct to climb up and out of test tubes, the team trained the flies for three weeks.

One group was normal, one group had been bred to lack the ability to produce Sestrin, and one had been altered to overexpress Sestrin.

"Flies can usually run around four to six hours at this point and the normal flies' abilities improved over that period". Without needing to exercise, these flies displayed significantly higher performance levels than regular flies, again indicating that Sestrin in some way enhances physical capacities. In fact, flies with overexpressed Sestrin didn't develop more endurance when exercised.

The beneficial effects of Sestrin was more than just better endurance.

"We propose that Sestrin can coordinate these biological activities by turning on or off different metabolic pathways". "This kind of combined effect is important for producing exercise's effects". And in a related study conducted at Spain's Pompeu Fabra University, Sestrin was found to keep immobilized muscles from atrophying - this finding could be particularly applicable to people who have an injured limb encased within a cast.

Could Sestrin supplements be on the horizon? Not quite, says Lee.

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