An ‘exercise pill’ that tricks the body into reacting as though it has undertaken physical activity could help prevent heart failure, but experts have warned it would never replace exercise.
With increasingly time-poor lifestyles, the concept of obtaining the heart benefits of exercise by popping a pill might seem appealing. But it may not be so simple.
New research, conducted by Ottawa University, found that a pill containing a protein called cardiotrophin 1 (CT1) mimics the effects of going to the gym, by prompting the heart to pump more blood and encourage healthy growth.
Human trials are on the horizon, with researchers expecting work to commence within three to four years.
But accredited practicing dietician Melanie McGrice said any such pill should not be equated to going to the gym or going for a walk, for those too lazy to exercise.
Dangers of replacing exercise with a pill
Ms McGrice told The New Daily that even if the heart research goes on to be successful in humans, there are many other health benefits to exercise that would be missed.
“Being outdoors in amongst nature helps stress relief, and there are also benefits in getting some fresh air and vitamin D (sunshine),” she said.
“I’d say that you certainly wouldn’t get the release of ‘feelgood’ endorphins that come after working out, from taking a pill, or any of the psychological benefits of exercise.”
Ms McGrice said that while the protein impacts the heart, there is no evidence to suggest the pill would affect other muscles.
“You’d also need to be able to increase the strength of other muscles as well to increase metabolism and therefore impact weight,” she said.
“I’d hope that if something like this was to become commercially available, that people don’t use it as an excuse not to exercise.”
Australian research, conducted by Deakin University last year, referenced another ‘exercise pill’ containing a different drug which it was hoped could one day treat diabetes and obesity.
Medical benefits for heart failure patients
Ms McGrice said the research could improve the lives of those with heart disease, people who are confined to bed, or disabled and unable to keep up their exercise.
University of Melbourne professor David Hare, who has an interest in cardiovascular research, told The New Daily the Canadian study had produced “very important data” and could prove useful in preventing the progression of heart failure.
The chronic condition affects about 300,000 Australians, Professor Hare said.
“That is, their heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body – especially during exertion – or can only do so with significant shortness of breath,” he said.
“Most heart failure in Australia is secondary to high blood pressure or to damage from previous heart muscle damage. However, there are many other causes including family genetic disorders of heart muscle or disease of heart valves.”
He said the pill would “clearly not” replace the comprehensive benefits of exercise.