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Surprising Science

Exercise Hormone Prevents Obesity and Diabetes

A newly discovered hormone, produced by the body during exercise, is enabling scientists to better understand how exercise works at the cellular level to prevent diseases like obesity and diabetes.

What’s the Latest Development?

Scientists have discovered a hormone responsible for protecting the body against obesity and diabetes by altering the metabolism of our fat cells. The hormone, called PGC1-alpha, is produced in muscle during exercise and causes the expression of a specific protein, Fndc5. The protein communicates directly with fat cells, “by providing various biochemical signals or messages, it begins turning regular fat—especially deep, visceral fat clustered around organs—into brown fat.” Brown fat cells are metabolically active and physiologically desirable.

What’s the Big Idea?

When scientists looked at the fat-fighting protein Fndc5 in mice and humans, they found identical molecular structures, suggesting the protein has been essential throughout the process of evolution. Scientists were therefore encouraged to find that injecting Fndc5 into the white, inactive fat cells of mice created brown cells, which help to burn energy. Future studies will examine “whether injections of [the protein] imitate some of the metabolic benefits of exercise in people who, because of disease or disability, cannot work out.”

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