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Our little furry friends are well known for their appetite for cheese and delectable crumbs, so it’s entirely understandable if they put on a couple of extra pounds. But modern medicine may have just found a safe and reliable remedy to their gluttony. In a study conducted by a University of Florida professor of pharmacy, a new wonder drug has allowed mice to get into marathon shape without them even “lifting a paw.” SLU-PP-332 belongs to a class of drugs known as “exercise mimetics” – pharmaceuticals that allow the body to reap the benefits of working out while simultaneously circumventing any physical exertion.

The study found that mice that received the drug experienced a sharp drop in body fat percentage without a change in appetite. By boosting and catalyzing the body’s existing metabolism of fat, the drug is able to burn fat that would usually require endurance exercise or prolonged aerobic threshold exertion. Thomas Burris, the lead researcher, summarized its metabolic effects, saying, “This compound is basically telling skeletal muscle to make the same changes you see during endurance training.”

So why is body fat so stubborn to metabolize in the first place? The answer lies in its chemical structure. Lipids, unlike their carbohydrate cousins, are particularly difficult to break down. Take the mouse’s coveted Swiss cheese as an example: it’s a saturated fat that, although delicious, is unhealthy. It has fatty acid chains with single bonds between its carbon atoms; consequently, the chains pack closely together and layer upon each other. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are the body’s quick and accessible source of energy. It’s going to choose the easier task and consume carbs in the bloodstream over stored fat. Hydrolysis, which occurs extensively in the digestive system, facilitates the breaking apart of carbohydrate polymers. It’s a primary and preferred means of sourcing energy via glucose, ribose, or fructose that doesn’t require the extra thirty minutes of jogging to tap into fat reserves.

I think exercise mimetics could be useful for athletes who are sidelined by medical treatment for an extended period of time, but I find its commercial application for dietary convenience troubling. I think it could become a cheap way to circumvent the discipline and timely cost of serious physical exercise. What do you think: will these mimetics compromise the integrity of exercise? Maybe one day humans will be able to maintain an elite physique while sustaining a diet of cheese and crackers, but for now, bike, run, swim, dance, lift, push, and use the human body to the fullest of its wondrous capabilities!

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