Increasing Irisin: How the “Feel Good” Exercise Hormone Can Help Your Brain

Just discovered in 2012, irisin is exciting the science community with questions about its role in our bodies. Named after Iris, the Greek messenger to the gods, it’s called the feel good hormone, or the exercise hormone.  As reported recently in The New York Times, research with mice has shown that irisin, released during exercise, works to activate brain cell growth and may counteract the beta amyloid growth associated with Alzheimer’s disease. And while there is plenty of research showing that exercise increases bone density, new studies indicate that it may be irisin that is driving the change. This could lead to new advances in the treatment of osteoporosis.

It appears that irisin, known to be produced by muscles during exercise, is also produced in the brain. In both instances irisin starts a cascade of chemical reactions involved in metabolism throughout the body. It’s presence in the brain has been shown to counteract Alzeimer’s in mice, and to activate the conversion of “white fat” cells into the more desirable “brown fat” that regulates body temperature. For this reason, irisin is being explored as a drug therapy for obesity. Professor Mark Febbraio, Head of the Cellular and Molecular Metabolism Laboratory and Head of the Diabetes and Metabolism Division at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research, said that “There is a possibility they could make drugs that target the pathways that are activated by irisin” to produce similar affects of exercise on maintaining body weight, particularly for those who can’t exercise.

As most of the current research has not been tested on humans, there is still much to be learned about how these effects translate to keeping our bodies and brains healthy. But all the science indicates that regular exercise and increasing irisin levels offer a host of benefits: brain health, greater bone density, and producing more of the “good fat” – so what are you waiting for?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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