Hormones, or chemical proteins that circulate in the blood and regulate body function, have long been known to be produced by just a handful of endocrine glands such as the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pancreas and the gonads. Three latest ones to join this exclusive club are intestines, bone and skeletal muscles!
It may sound funny but medical scientists are beginning to discover how some of these large tissues also produce “hormones’ and regulate metabolism.
Skeletal muscles, for instance, produce a wide variety of “hormones”, largely referred to as “MYOKINES”. Their subtle actions range from maintaining blood sugar control (apart from Insulin), keep us in good mood (stretching skeletal muscles has stress busting effects on the brain), improves fat metabolism (converts white fat to brown fat, and reduces its quantity), improves liver functions, regulates bowel movements, and removes cholesterol plaques from blood vessels.
What goes on between myokines and other organ systems is referred to in scientific circles, as CROSS TALK. The myokines released from muscle fibers during exercise or stretching, interact with other systems and hormones. Some of the important functions recently ascribed to myokines are improved cognition (alertness, learning), ant-depressive actions, reduced stress hormone levels and cardio-protection.
To make it simple, research is showing that those who have been actively exercising are less prone to fatty liver disease and developing diabetes. Indeed they tend to develop Alzheimer’s disease less often and demonstrate less risk for developing cancers.
The discovery came in 2000 when it was realized that exercise caused release of a hormone-like substance called IL-6 (interleukin 6) from muscles into the circulation. It turns out that this IL-6 has anti-inflammatory and health promoting properties from the brain to the liver.
The only way to get your share of IL-6 release into the circulation, unfortunately, is by stretching and doing some exercise, squeezing your muscles to release it. This set of observations now explains why “healthy” living requires a daily dose of myokines or IL-6, and no pill can help provide that as of now!