Muscle wasting, or atrophy, has become a sort of boogeyman in the world of health and fitness. This condition, though it can be caused by any number of illnesses, afflicts us all at some point as a result of prolonged inactivity and aging. But atrophy has a much higher cost than just a hit to your ego and the loss of your hard-earned muscle; Your health could be put in serious danger. If it’s left untreated, atrophy can lead to weakness, fatigue, an increased risk of injury and an overall lower quality of life. To be sure, exercise helps but it hasn’t proven to be effective in every case.
While you might not be currently at a high risk for atrophy, you doubtlessly want to do everything you can to hang on to your muscle. According to a new study from the University of Iowa, the solution may come from an extremely unexpected source: Unripe, green tomatoes.
Using a tool that had previously been developed by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University called the Connectivity Map, researchers at the University of Iowa were eventually able to zero in on a small compound found in green tomatoes called tomatidine. After first identifying and isolating tomatidine, the researchers tested the effects of the compound on cultured human muscle cells.
Much to their pleasant surprise, tomatidine encouraged noticeable growth muscle in this controlled environment. But results achieved in a test tube cannot always be recreated in a living organism. So, the next step was to begin including tomatidine in the diet of healthy mice.
These trials produced two fascinating results: First, the mice that were fed with tomatidine were more muscular, stronger and had better endurance than the control group. Second, the tomatidine group did not experience a change in body weight. This suggests that tomatidine also has an mechanism for lowering body fat percentage, in addition to building muscle.
The researchers came to the hopeful conclusion that tomatidine causes a change in gene expression that is opposite that of muscle atrophy. Essentially, this compound seems to be the antidote for muscle wasting.
Words Of Caution
This research, while intriguing, isn’t a reason in and of itself to go stock up on green tomatoes. Why not?
First of all, as the researchers themselves noted, we don’t currently know how many green tomatoes you would need to eat to get an effective dosage of tomatidine. Since the research has only been conducted in mice thus far, we also don’t know how much tomatidine is needed to get the same effects in humans.
Second, the team of researchers made a worrying move based on there findings: They founded their own biotech company called Emmyon with the expressed purpose finding ways to incorporate tomatidine into enriched foods and medications. The company is also exploring a similar, but weaker, compound called ursolic acid that is found in apple peels. While their motives may be completely pure, it is worrying that no other researchers have yet studied tomatidine.
Nevertheless, the current body of evidence does support the idea that green tomatoes could be an effective treatment for muscle atrophy. Not only that, tomatidine could effectively stimulate muscle growth is healthy people as well.