A team of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers believe to have found a natural hormone that triggers some of the key health benefits of exercise. They think that this muscle cell hormone serves as a chemical message that could treat diabetes, obesity, and more.
Researchers have found that exercising seems to trigger this messenger, and they believe that this could have health benefits. Irisin is a protein that seems to “talk to” various tissues in the body. Irisin levels can rise through exercising, and when irisin levels rise, it seems to have a powerful effect on fat tissue deposits called adipose. These deposits have white fat, and white fat stores excess calories.
Increasing irisin levels seems to switch on a gene that converts white fat into brown fat. Brown fat is “good”; brown fat burns off more excess calories than exercise by itself. Adults don’t have too much brown fat, but the benefits from brown fat seem to be getting more apparent, so researchers are thinking about ways to increase brown fat in adults. Irisin seems to stimulate brown fat development, but it also improves glucose tolerance.
This doesn’t mean that you can go to the gym once a week and magically have brown fat deposits instead of white fat deposits. From the studies, they found that the increase in irisin levels actually is a result of doing repeated amounts of long exercise. The researchers found that doing short-term exercising does not seem to have the same effect on irisin levels.
The researchers are now doing tests to see if they can inject irisin into people and have its effects work without the exercise. They don’t expect to see that people will be able to start skipping the gym in order to get the same effect as they currently are getting from irisin, but they think that they might be on their way to a cure for many diseases.
For now, keep exercising and eating healthy. The goal is to get brown fat cells and not white!