Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at how a protein in the body can mimic exercise effects, how drinking tea could benefit your heart, and how coffee appears to help shed body fat.

Is there a workout pill in our future?

Scientists have pinpointed a protein that might one day help prevent muscle decline in seniors as well as help people who are immobile or have limbs in a cast, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Researchers tested Sestrin, a protein that accumulates in muscle after exercise, to see what relation it had to exercise using a series of experiments with flies and mice.

Creating a sort of “fly treadmill,” they trained the flies for three weeks and then compared the running and flying ability of normal flies to those that were bred to lack the ability to produce Sestrin.

The normal flies ran around for hours at a time, and during that time, their abilities improved, while those without the protein did not see these gains in aerobic capacity, respiration and fat burning. Conversely, triggering over-expression of Sestrin in muscles gave another group of flies even greater endurance than the whole group.

University of Michigan researchers believe that Sestrin can mimic exercise by switching on and off different metabolic pathways, producing its effects. Further investigation also showed that Sestrin can help prevent wasting of muscles, important when someone can’t get up to walk.

Of course, more research is needed, and these animal findings must first be replicated in humans before any pill comes to market in the years ahead.

Sip tea, have fewer heart problems

Chinese men and women who drank more than three cups of tea a week had a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and other fatal problems, according to this story in The The New York Times.

Analyzing data from a continuing health study of more than 100,000 adults across seven years and 15 Chinese provinces, researchers found a 20 percent reduced risk for a cardiovascular incident, a 22 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular death and 15 percent reduced risk for all-cause premature death.

The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, was observational and does not prove cause and effect, but tea—especially green tea—is a source of flavonoids that could reduce oxidative stress, relieve inflammation, increase the efficiency of heart muscle cells and improve the function of blood vessels.

Coffee as a weight-loss tool?

New research suggests that four cups of coffee a day could help shed some body fat, according to this HealthDay report.

Researchers launched a 24-week experiment to track coffee intake among 126 overweight men and women in Singapore. The original intent was to see whether java could help lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes by lowering the risk of insulin resistance, which can cause big spikes in blood sugar and ultimately diabetes. They did not find that coffee had this protective effect, but those who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee per day over six months did see a nearly 4 percent drop in body fat.

“We were indeed surprised by the observed weight loss that was specifically due to fat mass loss among coffee drinkers,” said study author Derrick Johnston Alperet, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

That amount of coffee, while well within American norms for coffee consumption, could pose a problem for some individuals, causing headaches, jitters, rapid heartbeat and stomach distress. Furthermore, modest calorie restriction and exercise would over time help most people shed more body fat than drinking four cups of coffee a day, health officials say.

More research is planned to see exactly what effect coffee has on body composition and how valuable a tool it could be as part of a larger weight-loss program.

Photo credit: Toa Heftiba, Unsplash