August 15, 2023
Myokines: The Hope Molecule
By Ram Rao, Ph.D., Principal Research Scientist for Apollo Health
Myokines, also known as “Hope Molecules,” are powerful mental stress-busters and strongly influence brain structure and function. Myokines are produced by the muscles throughout the body. They promote overall health by decreasing inflammation, increasing fat oxidation, stabilizing glucose levels, and preventing cognitive decline.
Myokines are cytokines and other proteins produced by the muscles. They move into the bloodstream through muscle contractions and exert auto-para-and/or endocrine effects. Myokines are released during consistent movements like swimming, walking, biking, or other physical exercises. They possess a unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and impact brain function. These chemicals directly increase resiliency to mental stress, reduce symptoms of depression and trauma and protect the brain from age-associated deleterious effects. Myokines act like micro-messengers, both in the body and brain, sending signals to assist them to become stronger and healthier. They’re also responsible for improved metabolism, reduced inflammation, and increased muscle strength. What we long suspected is now a scientific fact: the chemical connection between muscles, movement, moods, emotions, and the brain can be traced to myokines. Thanks to this muscle-brain nexus, myokines are now referred to as ‘Hope Molecules”.
Through their role as antidepressants and mood enhancers, myokines keep the brain in an exalted state and function better. This may be the reason why physical exercise is so good for mental health. The links between physical activity and mental health are especially true for children and young people. A large study from Norway showed that teenagers participating in teen sports had higher self-esteem and life satisfaction. Furthermore, a clear association was found between inactivity and poor mental health. Studies involving university students demonstrated a dose-response association between physical inactivity and poor mental health, self-harm, and suicidal attempts. Our brains and bodies do better with exercise and physical activity, and more exercise makes us less anxious and depressed. Exercise is a very safe and non-invasive treatment option for those suffering from mental issues. Increasing the intensity of the movement increases the number of hope molecules in the bloodstream, and more are the benefits. It’s no surprise that general practitioners now recommend “social prescriptions” such as more time outdoors, daily walks, and community engagement.
So, the next time you find yourself feeling low or depressed and feel like you could benefit from a little hope, just engage in some movement-like activity. Take a walk in the neighborhood, climb the stairs, park your car in the farthest parking spot, walk to the grocery store, swim, jump, or dance your heart out. Whichever activities you choose, know that you are activating your muscles which in turn will release myokines that will ultimately uplift you. Movement is thus our own personal pharmacy, so every time we flex or move our muscles, we are giving ourselves a bout of hope.