It’s something that’s crossed most of our minds while struggling through the last set of burpees or picking the side salad over fries — ‘If only there was a pill that could keep me slim without having to diet or exercise!’ But at the end of the day, we all know that unfortunately, there’s no magic shortcut to becoming fitter, healthier and leaner.
However, if new research is anything to go by, a pill that makes us shredded with minimal effort could be within reach. Scientists claim that they’re on the brink of inventing exercise pills that will make our bodies burn fat and gain muscle faster, boost the strength of our hearts and improve blood-sugar levels to ward off diabetes. Essentially, it would give us optimal health and an athlete’s physique without having to lift a finger—except to pop that daily pill, of course.
Sounds amazing, right? Who wouldn’t want that? Scientists think so too, which is why they’re currently racing to invent it first (and no doubt make a fortune!). Leading the pack is Ron Evans, a professor at Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in California. He recently appeared on the cover of the New Yorker magazine, for his work on a drug called W501516.
Evans spent more than a decade developing this drug compound which simulates the physical benefits of exercise. It targets a gene called the PPAR-delta, making it act as though the body has been doing endurance-running training. In doing so, the gene instructs cells to stop storing fat and instead break it down and burn it for energy.
When Evans gave the drug to overweight lab mice, he discovered they lost fat and gained muscle. Their insulin resistance — a warning factor for Type 2 diabetes — also reduced to healthier levels. Their performance on the treadmill also improved by a whopping 70%.
So, if that’s the case, why aren’t we all already taking this drug? Well, back in 2007, it was found that when given large doses, many of the rodents developed cancer. So, since then, Evans has been developing a less potent, less toxic version that is suitable for humans — to hopefully hit the market within the next decade.
Meanwhile, in the UK, scientists are developing a similar drug called Compound 14. This is said to work by making the cells act as though they are running out of energy, which causes them to burn the body’s reserve of fats. Other researchers are looking for ways to manipulate a substance naturally produced in the body, irisin, which is produced by our muscles in response to exercise.
If one of these drugs does hit the market in the near future, does that mean we’ll have an entire population filled with Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Instagram models? Not necessarily. You’d have to imagine the demand for these drugs will be crazy high, which means the prices are likely to be even higher. Then, there’s the fact that the drugs are unlikely to give you all of the physical and mental health benefits of a good gym session. Probably best to stick to losing fat and gaining muscle the old-fashioned way, we say!