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Lactate boosts cognitive function in mice, according to a new study. Mice had better spatial working and long-term memory after exercising and receiving supplemental lactate.

Researchers studied the effects of exercise – with or without supplemental lactate – on cognitive function in mice. The mice engaged in moderate-intensity exercise (about 55 to 60 percent of their VO2 max) five days a week for five weeks. This level of intensity is just below the “lactate threshold” – the point at which lactate builds up in the bloodstream and compromises performance. At the end of the five-week period, they tested the animals' memory skills.

They found that exercise plus supplemental lactate improved the animals' spatial working and long-term memory. In addition, the expression of various proteins produced in the hippocampus, including FNDC5 (also called irisin) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), increased, suggesting that supplemental lactate augments the beneficial effects of exercise on the hippocampus and subsequent cognitive function.

Lactate is a compound produced in muscles during exercise via the breakdown of glucose. It is thought to participate in a sort of “lactate shuttle” in which it is transported from the muscles into tissues like the heart and brain, where it is used for energy. Evidence suggests that lactate mediates some of the benefits of exercise on learning and memory via inducing neuronal BDNF expression. Learn more about the lactate shuttle and its effects on the brain in this episode featuring Dr. George Brooks.

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