"Exercise pill" could trick body into burning fat

Scientists have developed a drug that enables mice to burn fat even when they are not exercising, making them resistant to a high-fat diet.

By giving ordinary adult mice a drug - a synthetic designed to mimic fat - Salk Institute scientist Ronald Evans is now able to chemically switch on PPAR-d, the master regulator that controls the ability of cells to burn fat. Even when the mice are not active, turning on the chemical switch activates the same fat-burning process that occurs during exercise. The resulting shift in energy balance (calories in, calories burned) makes the mice resistant to weight gain on a high fat diet.

The researchers hope that such metabolic trickery will lead to a new approach to new treatment and prevention of human metabolic syndrome. Sometimes called syndrome X, this consists of obesity and the often dire health consequences of obesity: high blood pressure, high levels of fat in the blood, heart disease, and resistance to insulin and diabetes.

Dr Evans said: "In today's society, too few people get an ideal amount of exercise, some because of medical problems or excess weight that makes exercise difficult. Having access to an 'exercise pill' would improve the quality of muscles, since muscles like to be exercised, and increase the burning of energy or excess fat in the body.

"And that would result in less fatty tissue, lower amounts of fat circulating in the blood, lower blood glucose levels and less resistance to insulin, lowering the risks of heart disease and diabetes."