Scientists from Stanford Medicine and Baylor University have discovered a molecule that may be used to stop hunger cravings.
In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers analyzed blood plasma from mice that had just engaged in strenuous activities.
They found that the compound lac-phe, a single molecule produced during exercise, significantly lowered food consumption and triggered weight loss in mice.
“Regular exercise has been proven to help weight loss, regulate appetite and improve the metabolic profile, especially for people who are overweight and obese,” said Baylor College of Medicine professor and lead author Yong Xu. “If we can understand the mechanism by which exercise triggers these benefits, then we are closer to helping many people improve their health.”
The amino acid, which is synthesized from the exercise byproduct lactate and the protein building block phenylalanine, travels to the brain to suppress appetite.
The research team found that administering a high dose of lac-phe in lab rodents reduced their food consumption by half over a period of 12 hours when compared to that of a control group. The compound did not affect the mice’s movement or energy use. Additionally, the mice given lac-phe for 10 days maintained a lower food intake and exhibited reduced obesity as well as improved glucose tolerance.
According to the study authors, their findings could potentially lead to an “anti-hunger” pill in the near future and even function as an alternative to exercise.
“This could lead to the development of a pill that can directly be used to suppress appetite for certain individuals who cannot easily exercise because of other conditions, aging or bone issues,” Xu told New Scientist. “We just filed a patent for hopefully using this knowledge to treat human diseases such as obesity.”
The team’s findings showed that an enzyme called CNDP2 helps produce lac-phe. The mice without the enzyme did not lose as much weight on an exercise regime as the mice from a control group did on the same plan.c
They also discovered that plasma lac-phe levels spike in racehorses and humans following physical activity.
In human participants, it was found that sprint training resulted in the most dramatic increase of plasma lac-phe, followed by resistance and endurance training. The study, however, did not look into the metabolic effects of lac-phe in humans.
“This suggests lac-phe is an ancient and conserved system that regulates feeding and is associated with physical activity in many animal species,” Jonathan Long, Stanford Medicine assistant professor of pathology, shared in a release.
The scientists posit that the potential to utilize lac-phe for medical and health benefits would require further research.
“Our next steps include finding more details about how lac-phe mediates its effects in the body – including the brain,” noted Xu. “Our goal is to learn to modulate this exercise pathway for therapeutic interventions.”