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In The Bourne Legacy, Aaron Cross was the last member of a secret government program whose operatives were genetically altered. Cross relied on performance-enhancing blue pills (and they were not Viagra) called “chems.” With their help, he crossed the Canadian Rockies in record time.

When the movie came out in 2012, performance-enhancing drugs were already old news to scientists, professional athletes, and superspies. Research was already underway on compound GW501516.

But in 2007, GlaxoSmithKline shelved GW501516 because of the high incidence of cancers in mice used for the studies.

The drug went underground. Professional athletes used it, even though on the list of banned substances. So far, there are no anecdotal or documented cases of athletes developing cancer from taking generic 516.

And it didn’t stop other pharmaceutical companies from finding other compounds that did the same thing. Mitobridge is one company that picked up the research for a drug that safely boosts human metabolism.

The incentive was that 516 mimics the benefits of exercise increasing endurance as much as 70 percent. It helps burn fat and increases healthy brown fat. Other health benefits include better glucose control, lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and higher protective HDL. It could also help speed recovery after a heart attack.

Compound 516 is nearly a sure thing. Or is it?

The science behind exercise enhancing drugs targets mitochondria, the energy-producing living structures inside cells that produce energy and maintain cellular health.


Mitochondria have a genome separate from cells. Though our mitochondrial DNA makes up a small part of our overall DNA, it does a lot of work. Mitochondrial function is linked to metabolism, aging, and performance.

Compound 516 targets PPAR gene receptors in mitochondria. Scientists believe these are the body’s fat-burning switches.

In the future, compounds like 516 could have life-enhancing benefits for astronauts enduring extended space travel. It’s not surprising that the U.S. Department of Defense invests heavily in exercise pill research that influence muscle metabolism. The Bourne movies implied the enhancement effects of these drugs.

But, the journey from discovery to market takes years. No wonder there is a thriving underground trade. Compound GW501516 is also known as GW-501, 516 and GSK-516, and as Endurobol and Cardarine.

A lot of hope is riding on exercise pills. For those who can’t exercise due to sedentary jobs like long-distance truck drivers and people with physical disabilities, a blue exercise pill could prevent debility and lower cardiovascular disease risk. 516 could become the gold standard for staying healthy in a post-modern world with no time to exercise.

Natural Ways to Enhance Your Mitochondria

Besides new drugs like 516 and supplements, other ways to boost mitochondria and maintain critical ATP production include intermittent fasting, eating fatty acids (as found in fish, seeds and nuts, and avocados), and exercise.

Boosting NAD+ also improves mitochondria function. A 2016 study found that taking nicotinamide riboside, the precursor to NAD+, enhanced stem cell function. More viable stem cells speed healing, stimulate tissue repair, and increase lifespan.

Another mitochondria enhancer is PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone). PQQ acts as a growth factor, capable of increasing the number of mitochondria within cells. A 2013 study found that PQQ influences energy metabolism. It also reduces inflammation including lowering C-reactive protein, a marker for increased cardiovascular disease risk.

Other supplements that protect mitochondria function include L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q10.

The biological processes associated with exercise are complex and remain mysterious. However, scientists know that exercise activates compounds in the body, like 516, which induces thermogenesis that triggers fat burning and enhances endurance.

“Eating alone will not keep a man well, he must also take exercise. For food and exercise work together to produce health.” Hippocrates 400 BC

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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