Everyone needs that extra boost to get them in the gym sometimes (some more than others). Now, a hormone already used by blood doping athletes to increase the number of red blood cells may one day motivate you to exercise more. A new study, published in The FASEB Journal, focused on the effects of erythropoietin (EPO) on exercise performance in mice.
This hormone, produced in the kidneys, is best known for increasing the number of red blood cells, which also enhances oxygen delivery throughout the body. Oxygen is essential for exercise, so having more available can improve exercise performance.
Some endurance athletes who have been treated with EPO have also reported increased motivation to exercise. This, however, was not the case with all studies in people.
Swiss researchers used genetically engineered mice to see if they could identify the motivation effects of EPO. Unlike other mice, these ones produced high levels of EPO in the brain. The genetically engineered mice showed improved exercise performance—seen as greater aerobic capacity, and exercising more before becoming exhausted.
These mice, however, didn’t have increased numbers of red blood cells, or elevated heart rate or blood pressure. This, say researchers, is because EPO produced in the brain affects the brain directly, rather than the bone marrow where red blood cells are made.
"Most probably, EPO has a general effect on a person's mood and might be used in patients suffering from depression and related diseases,” Max Gassman, D.V.M., one of the study’s authors, told EurekAlert.
More research in people is needed, though, to confirm whether EPO can help perpetual couch potatoes get motivated to exercise more.