Scientists have long known that exercise improves health, speeds up metabolism, and provides a host of other health benefits, but the mechanisms underlying improved health have remained a mystery until now.

Recent research published in the journal Cell Metabolism reveals that exercise causes muscles to form a protein that leads to the formation of a special compound called 3-aminoisobutryric acid (BAIBA) that encourages the body to burn fat and balance blood sugar. 

Exercise ignites a molecular chain reaction, with one protein leading to other substances that encourage calorie burn, research says. 

To discover the biological phenomenon at the heart of the body’s ability to trim up and get strong with exercise, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School analyzed a protein called PGC-1 found in muscles. PGC-1 regulates muscle metabolism after exercise and encourages their growth. Researchers wanted to study further to learn what impacts PGC-1 had on other areas of the body.

To uncover the mystery, scientists forced muscle cells to express PGC-1, and then looked to see which other substances the cells secreted. One of the metabolites they identified was BAIBA, known to communicate with fat cells and encourage them to burn calories.

Studies with mice have shown BAIBA production supported weight loss and encouraged balanced levels of blood sugar. Additionally, the Framingham Heart Study found people who exercise test positive for elevated levels of BAIBA, which decreases metabolic risk factors that pave the way for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Risk factors include a large waistline along with high blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

The study’s senior author, Harvard’s Dr. Robert Gerszten, says the findings underscore the notion that compounds released in one part of the body communicate with other parts of the body, maximizing health benefits. Scientists said additional research is needed in order to fully understand the potential of BAIBA to improve people’s health.

What do you think about the potential for one molecule to convey so many health benefits?

Image by Mike Baird via Flickr

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