Hunting for Health?
Better to hunt in fields, for health unbought,
Than fee the doctor for a nauseous draught,
The wise, for cure, on exercise depend;
God never made his work for man to mend.
Hunting for health? Some think it should be as easy as taking a pill. Last year the FDA approved the first veterinary-approved obesity drug for dogs. Pfizer’s Slentrol decreases a dog’s appetite. With canine obesity reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. — nearly 40 percent of dogs (about 17 million) — are overweight or obese according to 2002 data from the AVMA) — the market is ripe for doggy diet pills.
The root of the problem? Well, according to a veterinarian quoted in an article from Medical News Today:
Why are 40 percent of dogs in the U.S. overweight or obese? The answer is simple: Too much food and too little exercise,” said Claudia A. Kirk, DVM, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Nutrition, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee. “In today’s hectic world, it’s a challenge for many dog owners to find time to ensure their pets get adequate exercise. And in our culture, we often equate food with love – without being aware of potential adverse health consequences. For both pet owners and veterinarians trying to manage a dog’s weight, these habits can be a source of genuine frustration.”
But which do you suppose your dog would rather take; a pill — or a walk? A lack of physical and mental exercise harms more than your dog’s physical health; boredom is the root of many canine behavior problems. Dogs didn’t evolve to spend their lives being cooped up alone in houses, crates or kennels for hours on end. They evolved to walk and work in a pack. And while jobs and other responsibilities mean that most dog owners spend less time with their four-legged friends that they’d like, a busy schedule is no excuse for neglecting your dog’s need for companionship and stimulation — or for trying to fill those needs with pills and tidbits instead of your time.
For all who have wondered if they could enjoy the benefits of exercise without the pain of exertion, the answer may one day be yes — just take a pill that tricks the muscles into thinking they have been working out furiously.
Researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego reported that they had found two drugs that did wonders for the athletic endurance of couch potato mice. One drug, known as Aicar, increased the mice’s endurance on a treadmill by 44 percent after just four weeks of treatment.
“It’s a little bit like a free lunch without the calories,” said Dr. Ronald M. Evans, leader of the Salk group.
But is that free lunch just bait for a better mousetrap? Another pointless medication to be telemarketed to gullible consumers who’ll beat down drug company doors to buy the latest life-enhancing wonder drug?
The idea of a workout in a pill seems almost too good to be true, but Dr. Evans has impressive research credentials, including winning the Lasker Award, which often presages a Nobel Prize. He is an expert on how hormones work in cells and on a powerful gene-controlling protein called PPAR-delta, which instructs fat cells to burn off fat.
Aicar improves endurance without training. Dr. Evans believes that it both activates the PPAR-delta protein and mimics the effects of exercise, thus switching on both sets of genes needed for the endurance signal.
He said the drugs worked off a person’s genetics, pushing the body to an improved set-point otherwise gained only by strenuous training. “This is not just a free lunch,” he said. “It’s pushing your genome toward a more enhanced genetic tone that impacts metabolism and muscle function. So instead of inheriting a great set-point you are using a drug to move your own genetics to a more activated metabolic state.”
Finding new ways to be fit is an admirable goal — but there’s a lot more to exercise than gaining strength and physical endurance. Our minds need physical exercise as much as our bodies do. And exercise that comes from a pill is never going to give you — or your dog — the kind of stress-reducing, endorphin-increasing, mentally stimulating, memory enhancing boost of self-esteem and companionship that a good old fashioned walk together will.
Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind [and our dogs]. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.”
– Gary Snyder