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Introducing Irisin: The exercise hormone

by | anti-aging, exercise, fat loss | 0 comments

As if we are not told enough how important exercise is for health and longevity, there is even more reason to do so. Harvard researchers in 2012 discovered a hormone like myokine that is produced through exercise, which they then named irisin. 

In this post, I will cover some of the many amazing benefits of irisin, and the different ways you can go about boosting your own irisin levels.

irisin turns the body into a fat burning machine 

Irisin seems to have to two fold effect on body fat. Irisin turns white fat into brown fat. Brown fat has more mitochondria and, as a result, is much more metabolically active than white fat. The body will use it for heat generation and other energy usage than white fat. 

Irisin will also suppress fat cell formation. In a study by Li-Jun Yang et al, it was found that not only did irisin change the structure of white fat to brown fat, it also inhibited the production of new white fat cells by 20 to 60%!

I know from many studies (and observation) that excessive exercise, especially aerobic exercise, is lacking when it come to fat loss. People expect to burn far more calories than they do from such activities. Moreover, it is way too easy to make up the lost calories from an increased appetite. Thus, I hardly recommend that someone spend a large amount of time doing aerobic activity to see fat loss, but concentrate on diet instead. 

I still believe that this advice is prudent, but this study does show how exercise plays a role in changing the metabolism to burn fat more efficiently, and why exercise should still be part of a healthy lifestyle . R. RR.

irisin plays a role in bone formation

There are three cell groups in bone: osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and osteocytes. Osteoblasts come from bone marrow precursor cells which lay down new bone. Osteoclasts also come from bone marrow precursor cells, but they re-absorb bone. Think of this as a see-saw effect. One builds bone, the other tears down bone. All based on the internal and external signals received from the body. Osteocytes are the cells that come from osteoblasts and remain embedded in the bone. The more osteocytes you have, the more dense your bones are, and with it the corresponding strength.  

Irisin has an impact on all three cells. On osteoblasts, irisin increases differentiation, proliferation, and mineralization among other things. With osteocytes, irisin will inhibit apoptosis (cell death), which will prevent the breakdown of bone. Moreover, irisin markedly reduces formation and differentiation of osteoclasts. The synergistic effect irisin has on all three cell types in the bone creates an environment for building and maintaining strong bones. In light of the pervasiveness of osteoporosis, it seems very beneficial to naturally boost irisin. R

 irisin helps prevent diabetes

More research needs to be done before we know for sure how much irisin plays a role in fighting diabetes. So far, what we do know is that low circulating irisin levels are found in people who have diabetes, so it is plausible that increasing irisin can help. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that irisin can decrease insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it harder for the muscle cells (actually all cells, but the problem starts with insulin resistance with the muscles. Fat cells become more resistant later on as the disease progresses) to take in glucose from the bloodstream. It is the chronically elevated blood glucose that leads to metabolic syndrome and ultimately type 2 diabetes. R, R

irisin may help the fight against cancer

Researchers found that when irisin was administered to both cancerous and non-cancerous cells, irisin selectively killed the cancerous cells but left the non-cancerous cells alone. Moreover, at a closer look, irisin increased apoptosis (cell death) 22 times over non-treated cancer cells. This is significant. It has been well know for some time that exercise reduces cancer risk. It appears that irisin created from exercise is one of the reasons. R, R  

irisin may play a role in slowing down the ageing process

A biomarker that is showing promise as an indicator of ageing is the length of telomeres. Telomeres are the end caps of chromosomes that are designed to protect the chromosome. As telomeres shorten over time through cell differentiation, the structural integrity also decreases which leads to cells ageing and dying sooner. 

A study done by Dr. James Brown from Aston University found that there is a strong correlation between irisin levels and telomere length. Higher irisin levels translate to longer telomere length, thus, in theory, slowing down the ageing process. This demonstrates one way how exercise plays a role in anti-ageing.  R, R

how to increase irisin

It is very clear that the best way to increase irisin is through exercise. Hence the reason it is called the exercise hormone. Endurance exercise has been cited as a good way to increase irisin, and I have no reason to think it is not true, but a study published in PubMed demonstrated that endurance exercise was not effective on increasing irisin, but that “acute strenuous exercise” did. Personally, I favor using high intensity workouts over endurance training because you need far less volume to achieve great results from intense workouts. If you want a life outside of your gym, then brief and intense workouts are the way to go. The important thing is to be consistent over time with your workouts. 

Another way to increase irisin is through shivering. The body will shiver to stay warm in a cold environment, and to get the energy needed for this function, the body will kick up irisin so that it could convert white fat to brown fat. So it may be of benefit to keep the thermostat down from time to time in the winter months. R, R


The discovery of irisin and the many health benefits that arise from it are yet another of a long line of reasons to make exercise part of your daily or weekly routine. It helps turn the body into a fat burning machine, build and maintain strong bones, prevent cancer and even slow down the ageing process among other great benefits. 

Like my client who told me about irisin says during his workout “I can feel the irisin coursing through my veins”. Whether he actually feels that or not is hard to say, but no doubt irisin is made from exercising. Let’s use this to our advantage. 


Gregg Hoffman