The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle are well known today, and endless research has found an undeniable link between exercise and improved health. But in the last two decades researchers have been racing to try to mimic the effects of exercise through pharmaceuticals. This fascinating article from The New Yorker delves into how these medications work, the history of this research, and where it stands today.
Inactivity is at an all time high and more than 1/3 of adults have some form of metabolic syndrome with symptoms such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. The FDA doesn’t consider metabolic syndrome, or lack of exercise, a disease, and therefore will not approve research for a medication to target those issues specifically. As a result, researchers are focusing their efforts on diseases that are recognized by the FDA in hopes that by successfully treating FDA recognized diseases these medications will eventually be better understood and more widely used in the future.
Other researchers — specifically those in cancer research — are of the mindset that there is no free lunch. They fear that the dramatic changes made to cells by these medications will lead to increased tumor growth and possibly other negative effects on the body. Negative outcomes were found during early studies when large doses of these medications led to a higher occurrence of cancer in lab mice. Since then, research has moved toward much less potent forms of these medications in hopes of reducing the negative side effects, but the long term impact of the drugs is still unknown. No matter what comes of these medications, the research is improving our understanding of exercise and how to get the most benefit from it, a process of the body that scientists have never fully understood.